Hornbeam (Fagus sylvatica) is a relatively small hardwood tree very similar to Common Beech.
The common English name of "hornbeam" derives from the hardness of the wood (likened to horn) and the Old English "beam", meaning tree..
Hornbeam is often mistaken for a Common Beech but can be told apart by the long ribs on its bark, its toothed leaves and its much shorter buds.
It is more drought tolerant than Common Beech so is starting to be planted in hedges where Common Beech has been traditionally used.
The leaves are deciduous, alternate, and simple with a serrated margin, and typically vary from 3–10 cm in length. The flowers are wind-pollinated pendulous catkins, produced in spring. The male and female flowers are on separate catkins, but on the same tree (monoecious). Hornbeam leaves become golden yellow then orange before falling in autumn.
The bark is smooth and grey, with snaky patterns, on a ribbed trunk.
Hornbeam is a small to medium sized tree, typically 10–20 metres tall but occasionally reaching 30 metres. It is native to most of Europe except for Ireland, northern Britain and most of Scandinavia..
Hornbeam has the hardest and strongest timber of any tree in Europe. Before iron-working hornbeam was used to make huge cog wheels in windmills and watermills. It is also used in parquet flooring.
Mythology and symbolism
In folklore trees like hornbeam appear as ladders between worlds, as sources of life and wisdom, and as the physical forms of supernatural beings. Some myths say that this is an immortal tree where it has the ability to live forever.
The bark is astringent and it was used as a herbal steam bath in the treatment of rheumatism.
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