The Hornbeam Tree - Useful And Interesting
The hornbeam tree, sometimes called the ironwood tree, an appropriate name indeed, is not a terribly well known tree in most parts of our country, which is too bad as it is quite a handsome tree. It is not particularly tall, seldom exceeding 40 feet in height, but has a nice shape and is often used as a landscape tree in some locations. It grows mostly in temperate areas, is smoothed barked, and resembles the beech tree in many ways.
A Tree With Hard Wood And “Muscles” - One of the peculiarities of the hornbeam tree is the shape of its trunk, often described as muscular. If you were to look at a cross section of the trunk of the hornbeam you would not see a rather symmetrical array of annular growth rings as they appear in most trees. The rings are there, but exist in very irregular patterns, appearing in what could best be described as "patches". Although the tree grows from a single stem, the muscular appearance of the exterior trunk and the irregularities noticed in its cross-section make the tree appear to have grown from a number of intertwined stems. The tree is a hardwood, a very hard wood in fact. One could cut branches from the tree (it tolerates pruning quite well) for firewood as they are an excellent hot and long burning wood, but the tree is not generally used for either timber or firewood if only because it is quite slow growing. The hornbeam's wood is occasionally used for decorative purposes, but in truth it is quite difficult to work with. In the past, the wood from hornbeam trees has been used for a number of products, from tool handles to coach wheels, and because of its strength and toughness has even been used as teeth in windmill gears. Today the tree is almost always planted with landscaping, rather than timber or woodworking crafts in mind.
Several Species - There are several species of hornbeam trees. The European Hornbeam is found in most European countries, but scarce in the more northern climates and non-existent in Ireland. The European Hornbeam typically grows to a height of 40 feet, twice the height of the Oriental Hornbeam, which prefers the warmer and drier climates found in southern Europe and parts of Southeast Asia. The Oriental Hornbeam is normally rather shrubby in appearance. The American Hornbeam closely resembles its European counterpart, and is found mainly the eastern part of North America. The name hornbeam is derived from horn, referring to the hardness or bone-like quality of the wood, and beam, which is derived from the German word for tree, baum.
The hornbeam tree is not terribly difficult to grow from a small sapling, but larger trees generally do not transplant well. It is not terribly choosy as to the type of soil you may elect to grow it in, and can be planted in full sun or in partial shade. The tree has become popular as a container plant for patios, and when trimmed properly, as a screen or low shrub. It is a deciduous tree, with tooth-edged leaves of moderate size, which turn from green to yellow or a reddish orange in the fall.
A Most Versatile Tree - If you're in the market for an interesting tree to add to your landscaping, the hornbeam might be a good choice due to its versatility. It will start out as a small tree with a nice pyramidal shape and, if allowed, will branch out more fully. Or you can plant several and trim them to make a nice hedge. Once in awhile, cut of a few branches, let them dry out, and burn them in the fireplace or your fire pit. And if you're really handy with tools, and are looking for a challenge, try making some table legs or wagon wheel spokes out of hornbeam tree branches. You'll soon find out why it's also called ironwood.