Hornbeams are relatively small hardwood
Hardwood is wood from angiosperm trees . It may also be used for those trees themselves: these are usually broad-leaved; in temperate and boreal latitudes they are mostly deciduous, but in tropics and subtropics mostly evergreen.Hardwood contrasts with softwood...

A tree is a perennial woody plant. It is most often defined as a woody plant that has many secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance. A minimum height specification at maturity is cited by some authors, varying from 3 m to...

s in the genus Carpinus (Cár-pi-nus
Syllable stress of Botanical Latin
Syllable stress of botanical names varies with the language spoken by the person using the botanical name. In English-speaking countries the Botanical Latin places syllable stress for botanical names derived from ancient Greek and Latin broadly according to two systems, either the Reformed...

). Though some botanists grouped them with the hazel
The hazels are a genus of deciduous trees and large shrubs native to the temperate northern hemisphere. The genus is usually placed in the birch family Betulaceae, though some botanists split the hazels into a separate family Corylaceae.They have simple, rounded leaves with double-serrate margins...

s (Corylus) and hop-hornbeams (Ostrya) in a segregate
Segregate (taxonomy)
In taxonomy, a segregate, or a segregate taxon is created when a taxon is split off, from another taxon. This other taxon will be better known, usually bigger, and will continue to exist, even after the segregate taxon has been split off...

 family, Corylaceae, modern botanists place the hornbeams in the birch
Betulaceae, or the Birch Family, includes six genera of deciduous nut-bearing trees and shrubs, including the birches, alders, hazels, hornbeams and hop-hornbeams, numbering about 130 species...

 subfamily Coryloideae. The 30–40 species occur across much of the north temperate regions, with the greatest number of species in east Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, particularly China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

. Only two species occur in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, and only one in eastern North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...


Origin of Names

The common English name of "hornbeam" derives from the hardness of the wood (likened to horn
Horn (anatomy)
A horn is a pointed projection of the skin on the head of various animals, consisting of a covering of horn surrounding a core of living bone. True horns are found mainly among the ruminant artiodactyls, in the families Antilocapridae and Bovidae...

) and the Old English
Old English language
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southeastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century...

 beam, a tree (cognate with German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 "baum"). American Hornbeam is also occasionally known as blue-beech, ironwood, or musclewood; the first from the resemblance of the bark to that of the American Beech
American Beech
Fagus grandifolia, also known as American Beech or North american beech, is a species of beech native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario in southeastern Canada, west to Wisconsin and south to eastern Texas and northern Florida in the United States. Trees in the...

 Fagus grandifolia, the other two from the hardness of the wood and the muscular appearance of the trunk respectively. The botanic name for the genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

, Carpinus, is the original Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 name for the European species.


The leaves are deciduous
Deciduous means "falling off at maturity" or "tending to fall off", and is typically used in reference to trees or shrubs that lose their leaves seasonally, and to the shedding of other plant structures such as petals after flowering or fruit when ripe...

, alternate, and simple with a serrated margin, and typically vary from 3–10 cm in length. The flowers are wind-pollinated pendulous catkin
A catkin or ament is a slim, cylindrical flower cluster, with inconspicuous or no petals, usually wind-pollinated but sometimes insect pollinated . They contain many, usually unisexual flowers, arranged closely along a central stem which is often drooping...

s, produced in spring. The male and female flowers are on separate catkins, but on the same tree (monoecious
Plant sexuality
Plant sexuality covers the wide variety of sexual reproduction systems found across the plant kingdom. This article describes morphological aspects of sexual reproduction of plants....

). The fruit is a small nut
Nut (fruit)
A nut is a hard-shelled fruit of some plants having an indehiscent seed. While a wide variety of dried seeds and fruits are called nuts in English, only a certain number of them are considered by biologists to be true nuts...

 about 3–6 mm long, held in a leafy bract; the bract may be either trilobed or simple oval, and is slightly asymmetrical. The asymmetry of the seedwing makes it spin as it falls, improving wind
Wind is the flow of gases on a large scale. On Earth, wind consists of the bulk movement of air. In outer space, solar wind is the movement of gases or charged particles from the sun through space, while planetary wind is the outgassing of light chemical elements from a planet's atmosphere into space...

 dispersal. The shape of the wing is important in the identification of different hornbeam species. There are typically 10–30 seeds on each seed catkin.

Associated Insects

Hornbeams are used as food plants by the larva
A larva is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of their life cycle...

e of some Lepidoptera
Lepidoptera is a large order of insects that includes moths and butterflies . It is one of the most widespread and widely recognizable insect orders in the world, encompassing moths and the three superfamilies of butterflies, skipper butterflies, and moth-butterflies...

 species including Autumnal Moth
Autumnal Moth
The Autumnal Moth is a moth of the family Geometridae. It is found throughout the Palearctic region and the Near East and has a much wider distribution than its two close relatives...

, Common Emerald
Common Emerald
The Common Emerald is a moth of the family Geometridae. The species is found throughout the Nearctic and Palearctic regions and the Near East. In the British Isles it is not found in Scotland but is a common species elsewhere...

, Feathered Thorn
Feathered Thorn
The Feathered Thorn is a moth of the family Geometridae.-Etymology:The common name Feathered Thorn derives from the very strong feathering on the antennae of the male...

, Svensson's Copper Underwing
Svensson's Copper Underwing
Svensson's Copper Underwing is a moth of the family Noctuidae. It is distributed throughout Europe.This species has a wingspan of 47-56 mm, the female usually larger than the male. The forewings are brown, marked with pale fascia and a dark-centred pale stigma. The hindwings are bright...

 and Winter Moth
Winter Moth
The Winter Moth is a moth of the family Geometridae. It is an abundant species of Europe and the Near East and one of very few Lepidoptera of temperate regions in which the adults are active in the depth of winter....

 (recorded on European Hornbeam) as well as the Coleophora
Coleophora is a very large genus of moths of the family Coleophoridae. It contains some 1,350 described species. The genus is represented on all continents, but the majority are found in the Nearctic and Palaearctic regions...

case-bearers C. currucipennella and C. ostryae.

Notable Species

The European Hornbeam
European Hornbeam
Carpinus betulus is a hornbeam native to eastern, western, central and southern England. It requires a warm climate for good growth, and occurs only at elevations up to 600 metres...

 (Carpinus betulus), is a small to medium sized tree, typically 10–20 m tall but occasionally reaching 30 m. It is native to most of Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 except for Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, northern Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 and most of Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

. The leaves are 5–9 cm long, and the seeds have a 3–4 cm long trilobed bract
In botany, a bract is a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower, inflorescence axis, or cone scale. Bracts are often different from foliage leaves. They may be smaller, larger, or of a different color, shape, or texture...


The Oriental Hornbeam (Carpinus orientalis) occurs in southeast Europe and southwest Asia, usually on hot dry sites at lower altitudes than C. betulus, and is a smaller tree, rarely over 10 m tall and often shrub
A shrub or bush is distinguished from a tree by its multiple stems and shorter height, usually under 5–6 m tall. A large number of plants may become either shrubs or trees, depending on the growing conditions they experience...

by. It has small leaves, 3–5 cm long. The seeds differ from C. betulus in having a simple bract (not trilobed), about 2 cm long.

The Japanese Hornbeam
Japanese Hornbeam
Carpinus japonica is a hornbeam native to Japan.It grows to 12-15m tall with leaves that are longer and darker than the European Hornbeam . The leaves are dark, glossy and slender, with 20-24 pairs of parallel sunken veins; every third tooth is whisker-tipped....

 (Carpinus japonica) is similar to C. orientalis in having unlobed seed bracts, but differs from it in having larger leaves, 8–10 cm long.

The North American species, American Hornbeam
American Hornbeam
Carpinus caroliniana is a small hardwood tree in the genus Carpinus. American hornbeam is also occasionally known as blue-beech, ironwood, or musclewood. It is native to eastern North America, from Minnesota and southern Ontario east to Maine, and south to eastern Texas and northern Florida...

 (Carpinus caroliniana) is similar to C. betulus in leaf size and shape. The seed bract is also trilobed, but less deeply than in C. betulus. The trunk and limbs have a distinct 'muscled' shape, with long smooth rounded ridges running lengthwise. The bark is smooth bluish-grey, similar but even finer in texture to the American Beech
American Beech
Fagus grandifolia, also known as American Beech or North american beech, is a species of beech native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario in southeastern Canada, west to Wisconsin and south to eastern Texas and northern Florida in the United States. Trees in the...

 Fagus grandifolia. It is commonly referred to as ironwood, blue-beech or musclewood. Note that the appellation "ironwood" is also used for Ostrya virginiana
Ostrya virginiana
Ostrya virginiana , is a species of Ostrya native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia west to southern Manitoba and eastern Wyoming, southeast to northern Florida and southwest to eastern Texas and northeastern Mexico...

(Eastern Hophornbeam, American Hophornbeam) and these two trees' ranges overlap in parts of Eastern North America.


Hornbeams yield a very hard timber, giving rise to the name ironwood. Dried heartwood billets are nearly white and are suitable for decorative use. For general carpentry, hornbeam is rarely used, partly due to the difficulty of working it. Its hardness has however lent it to use for carving boards, tool handles, handplane soles, coach wheels, piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

 actions and other situations where a very tough, hard wood is required, perhaps most interestingly as gear pegs in simple machines, including traditional windmill
A windmill is a machine which converts the energy of wind into rotational energy by means of vanes called sails or blades. Originally windmills were developed for milling grain for food production. In the course of history the windmill was adapted to many other industrial uses. An important...

s. It is sometimes coppiced to provide hardwood poles. It is also used in parquet flooring and for making chess pieces.

External links

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