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European hornbeam

Summer foliage of 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.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Carpinus betulus

All common names:

European hornbeam, upright hornbeam, common hornbeam

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • City parkway,
  • Wide median

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Parkway/street,
  • Screen,
  • Specimen,
  • Windbreak

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 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Alkaline soil

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Intolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Tolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Tolerant

Ornamental Interest:

  • Fall color,
  • Persistent fruit/seeds,
  • Attractive bark

Seasons of Interest:

  • early winter,
  • midwinter,
  • 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


  • Birds,
  • Insect pollinators,
  • Small mammals

More Information:

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

Emerald Avenue® European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus 'JFS-KW1CB'):  40 feet high and 30 feet wide with a broadly pyramidal habit.  Good heat tolerance.

Frans Fontaine European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus 'Frans Fontaine'): 35 feet high and 15 feet wide with a narrow habit; maintains a fastigiate form longer than 'Fastigiata'.

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


Location of Carpinus betulus (European hornbeam) at the Arboretum