hornbeam defined in 1944 yearhornbeam - Hornbeam;
hornbeam - G. Hainbuche, Weissbuche, Hornbaum; F. Charme. Name derived from horny texture of the wood.
Although its foliage gives the hornbeam a superficial resemblance to the beech, it is more nearly allied botanically to the hazel, as is shown by the structure of both flowers and fruit. Never a large tree, it takes a subordinate place in mixed woodlands. Its twigs may be identified in winter by their curious buds, which are alternately disposed, oval, pointed, and more or less asymmetrically curved, giving them a bent appearance. The bark of the bole is smooth, but always more or less ribbed by "flutes", a typical feature which detracts from the tree's utility as timber.
The leaves, which appear in April, are similar to those of the beech - simple and oval in shape, but on closer inspection may be distinguished by their serrated edges. They turn to bright yellow before falling in October, but on the lower branches may persist throughout the winter, in which case they assume a pale brown hue.
The flowers appear in May, just after the leaves open, and are borne in catkins of separate sexes, but both on the same tree. The male catkins are conspicuous objects, 1 to 2 inches long; pendulous, and composed of numerous broad scales, each bearing about 6 stamens. The female catkins are smaller, only their long greenish bracts being conspicuous. Each bract protects 2 flowers, at the base of which is a tiny three-lobed bracteole, which develops to form the " wing " of the seed after the larger bract has fallen. After fertilisation the catkins elongate, and die three-lobed bracteoles, with a centre lobe much longer than the side lobes, enlarge to form a cluster of green wings, each bearing a single seed at their base. Both pollination and the spreading of seed are effected by wind, and seed is borne in most seasons.
The hornbeam is very local in its distribution, and does not occur naturally in Scotland, Northern England or Ireland, being most abundant in the eastern counties of England. It is found throughput central Europe, and similar species occur in Japan and North America.
Seed may be collected from, or beneath, the trees in October, but must be stored in moist sand for 18 months before sowing. About 10,000 seeds, without husks, go to the lb. Some weeks after sowing, two oval cotyledons appear above ground, followed by normal leaves. Early growth is slow, and plants must have 2 years in the seedbeds, followed by two more in nursery rows, before they are large enough for forest use.
Hornbeam thrives best on fresh and well-drained sand or gravel soils. It is immune from damage by frost, and bears intense shade. As it is usually of low height and grows at low altitudes, wind damage is rare, and it has few natural enemies. It is unlikely to thrive in a smoky atmosphere. It is an attractive hedge plant.
Hornbeam will coppice freely and grow well as a pollard tree, but the produce is of little use except as firewood. Epping Forest abounds in pollarded hornbeams, relics of the days when common fuelwood rights existed there., As a firewood it is first-rate.
Maiden trees seldom exceed 40 feet in height after 60 years' growth, and the fluted trunk, often elliptical in cross-section, can only yield a limited volume of useful timber. Pollarded trees are usually unsound. -The wood is creamy white in colour, no distinction appearing between heart and sapwood. It is by far the hardest and toughest of British timbers, but being difficult to work its use is limited to small articles such as pulley-blocks and mallets, where such qualities are most essential. The technique of modern industry substitutes metals or synthetic materials for many of the former uses of hornbeam wood, such as cogs or screws. The first requirement of a timber is that it shall be readily workable, a quality which the tough and often cross-grained hornbeam can never possess. It is a durable timber when kept dry, but unsuited to outdoor work.
In the past, hornbeam was of some local importance in the supply of firewood, charcoal, and the raw material of local industries. Its future prospects as a timber producer are very limited. Its chief use in sylviculture is as a frost-resisting soil-improver for under- planting oak. It might also be of service in forming fire-breaks in difficult situations, as it retains its leaf low down and may be coppiced to provide a continual green barrier. Exceptionally, hornbeam may attain heights up to 75 feet, girths up to 11 feet.
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