Logo

TREES & plants

European hornbeam

European hornbeams are excellent in groupings around large buildings and also useful as screens, hedges, and windbreak trees. The European hornbeam has densely textured foliage and handsome, slate-gray smooth to fluted bark. The dark green leaves turn an attractive yellow in the fall, and the bark and buds are ornamental in winter.

Botanical name: 
Carpinus betulus
All Common Names: 
European hornbeam, upright hornbeam, common hornbeam
Family (English): 
Birch
Family (Botanic): 
Betulaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Native Locale: 
  • Non-native
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
  • City parkway
  • Wide median
Landscape Uses: 
  • Windbreak
  • Specimen
  • Massing
  • Hedge
  • Screen
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
Mature Height: 
40-60 feet
Mature Width: 
30-40 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Alkaline soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Intolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Tolerant
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color
  • Persistent fruit/seeds
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter
  • Mid winter
  • Late winter
  • Late summer
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Narrow
  • Pyramidal
  • Round
  • Upright
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Transplants Well: 
  • Moderate
Wildlife: 
  • Birds
  • Insect pollinators
  • Small mammals
More Information: 

Size and Form

40 to 60 feet high and 30 to 40 feet wide; pyramidal, becoming rounded at maturity

Tree & Plant Care

Adaptable to various soil pH.
Minimal pruning required.

Disease, pests, and problems

No serious problems

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Europe and Asia.

Bark color and texture

Smooth and steel gray, but having a muscled character to its appearance, older trees  become more fluted.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color

Simple, alternate, oblong, doubly serrated, with prominent veins; 2 to 5 inches long.
Leaves are dark green changing to yellow late in season.


Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Inconspicuous; tiny male flowers in pendulous catkins in April; small female flowers near the ends of the twigs.
European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)photo: John Hagstrom
 

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Light brown nutlets, maturing in Oct., with a  three-lobed bract appearing as an umbrella over the nuts; nutlets and bracts in dangling clusters.
Bracts change from light green to yellow in fall.

Cultivars and their differences

Upright European hornbeam  (Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’):   30 to 40 feet high and 20 to 30 feet wide;  oval, narrow habit.

Columnaris  (Carpinus betulus 'Columnaris'):  a distinctly upright columnar to narrow  habit; densely branched with dark green foliage; creates strong vertical lines.