This vibrant attractive tree greets me every morning on the way to work by trying to whack me in the face as I cycle under its low branches.
Had it not been for its bunches of papery dangling fruits, I might have mistaken it for Wych Elm as the leaves are quite similar. Checking the details, though, the edges of Hornbeam’s leaves are very rough, as if they’ve been torn from a sheet of green paper, and their veins are quite prominent.
A couple of books say it could be confused for Beech but I think Hornbeam’s leaves have more tightly-packed veins and are much longer than beech’s. To be certain, check the bark which on Hornbeam is lightly cracked vertically and coloured grey on brown. Beech has very smooth, clean grey bark.
As is evidenced by this specimen’s location in the grounds of some flats, they are usually cultivated – in parks, along streets or as tall hedges. As the latter it is particularly effective as the dead leaves stay on all winter.
The wood is apparently fine-grained and used to make tools and skittles (not the multi-coloured sweets). It also burns slowly so makes good firewood – this is why it used to be pollarded (cut back so it grows several new branches) in Epping Forest.
The leaves have their uses too, including in an external compress to stop bleeding (they’re haemostatic) and heal wounds.
After having found all this out, I shall look differently on Mr Hornbeam tomorrow morning. Look out for it where you live and let me know if you spot one.