Plant of the Week: Upright European hornbeam

As early spring bloomers are popping up, it's easy to overlook the Carpinus betulus. Native to Europe and Asia, the Carpinus betulus is a medium sized hardwood tree than can often be seen around the city being used in a wide range of situations. A slow growing tree, the Carpinus features a compact structure, twisting smooth bark, serrated leaves and notably hardwood. It's a tough competitor, so it's not uncommon to see the Carpinus being used as a street tree as it's tolerant to many factors that impact the health of street trees including salt, shade, drought and pollution. Ornamentally, the Carpinus is often used as a shade tree, but it is also tolerant of heavy pruning and can be grown into a hedge.

Carpinus betulus belongs to the Betulace or Birch family. The Betulaceae family is home to some 150 species of flowering plants. Betulaceae are characterized as having simple, serrated, alternate leaves. Plants are typically monoecious, meaning male and female flowers appear on the same plant. Betulaceae can be found in the sub-arctic and temperate regions of the north and in South America spanning the Andes.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

Not the showiest of trees, the Carpinus doesn't really have flashy flowers or ornamental bark. But as the colder months draw closer, the Carpinus comes into its own and can add a lot of interest and habitat to a garden. As autumn approaches, the Carpinus puts on a display of bright yellow and gold foliage. The leaves will persist throughout the winter until the spring when the new growth arrives, providing shelter for small birds and mammals.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

The catkins (flower spikes) offer a valuable food source for various species of caterpillars and moths during the spring and the seeds are attractive to small animals through summer and fall. The wood of the Carpinus is particularly hard and strong. Its common name, upright European Hornbeam pays homage to this fact. "Horn," being old English for Hard, and "Beam," for tree. Historically the wood has had limited usage as it is so dense and the tree doesn't get large enough to supply a significant quantity of wood. But wood has been used to create items such as tool handles, ox yokes and cutting blocks for butchers.

PLANTING TIP:

Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata' likes to be planted in moist, well-draining soils and prefers full sun to part shade. Typically grows to a height of 30'-40.' Prune in later summer to mid winder to avoid excessive loss of sap which can weaken the tree.

USDA zone 4-8.

WHERE TO FIND THIS PLANT:

Lawn and Meadow walk at West 23rd St.

The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 500 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today. Every week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

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