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European Hornbeam


Picture of the European Hornbeam Image by John Picken via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution license


As a deciduous tree with an attractive shape and few disease or pest problems, the European hornbeam may be a good choice for your garden. It can tolerate shade, drought, wet soil and a wider range of pH level than its sibling, the American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana).

This hornbeam species was the recipient of the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Latin Name:

The Latin name given to this species is Carpinus betulus. The name betulus means that this tree has similar characteristics to those of the birch trees (Betula). Both are found in the Betulaceae family.

Common Names:

This can be called European hornbeam, common hornbeam, musclewood, ironwood or simply hornbeam.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones:

The European hornbeam should be planted in USDA Zones 4-7. It is originally from Europe and western Asia.

Size & Shape:

At maturity the tree will be 40-60' tall and 30-40' wide, though it can sometimes end up as wide as 60'. It can be pyramidal, resembling a teardrop, or form into a rounded shape.


This tree can grow in a location that receives full sun to part shade.


The oblong or ovate leaves are 2-5" long. Unlike the American hornbeam, this species does not have notable fall foliage.

Both male and female catkins are formed on the same tree, making this a monoecious plant.

Chains of nutlets form after pollination occurs. Each nutlet is connected to a bract.

Design Tips:

If you like the European hornbeam but do not have quite enough space, look for the 'Columnaris' or 'Fastigiata' varieties. 'Columnaris' is especially narrow, clocking in at around half the size of the species or less. 'Columnaris Nana' is a dwarf variety.

The tree is able to weather some periods of drought.

Growing Tips:

This species is able to handle a variety of soil wetness levels as long as the water is able to drain away.


You should not need to do much pruning unless you are trying to create a formal hedge or removing parts that are dead, damaged or diseased. If you do plan on some trimming, do it later in the summer so there is less chance that the tree will bleed sap.

Pests & Diseases:

You should find that there are not many pest or disease problems with this tree. Rarely you may find powdery mildew, leaf spots or cankers. You could possibly also have visits from the maple phenacoccus (Phenacoccus acericola) or the two-lined chestnut borer (Agrilus bilineatus).

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