Caprinus Betulinus

This tree is at the edge of the North Carriage Drive near the tennis courts. It is a native British species found in the south-east below a line from Worcester to Norfolk. Elsewhere, it has been specially planted.

It can be recognised by its leaves, which have toothed edges and deeply impressed veins which are in parallel rows. The bole has been compared to strained muscles in appearance. It is well fissured and in various shades of grey. The small brown ribbed nuts ripen in October and are found in clusters among small pointed leaves. The leaves form a soft yellow in the autumn and tend to remain in the lower part of the tree. This partly explains why it is used to make hadges and pleached alleys.

The original maze at Hampton Court is thought to have been made from hornbeam. The tree can reach 80 feet and live for 150 years. Fine examples can be found in Epping Forest, where it has been pollarded and coppiced for many years.

The wood has many uses. As it resists splitting it has been used to make skittles, chopping blocks, mallets and even truncheons! It burns well and even Pliny referred to it being used to make marriage torches. The charcoal it makes is of high quality and was used to make gunpowder. It is very hard and has even been dyed black as an ebony substitute. Cattle yokes were made of hornbeam and one view is that this is how it got its name.

There is a compact sultivated variety `Fastigiata’ which is tulip-shaped and quite different in appearance except for the leaf. This form is a newcomer and only arrived in Britain at the turn of the Century. It can also be found in the Park, near the Sun Gate.