Tree Following: That’s birch not beech

It’s May and the Hornbeam is looking less like Beech, with which it is easily confused in first leaf, and more like the Birch family, of which Carpinus betulus is evidently a member.

Almost lost from view amongst the density of foliage are the dripping bracts of papery green seed cases. With an overcast light on a windy day these were not easy to capture so I took a sample to photograph later. It loitered in my bag for a few hours before I remembered and although looking rather withered, the image shows fruited pairs, resembling bunches of hart’s tongue ferns.

At the tree’s base, Spring flowers have given way to the wildflower opportunists which gives me the opportunity to learn a few names – I can see Milk thistle, Wood Avens and Goose Grass (Cleavers). Looking upwards, graffiti scars are evident in the fluted trunk whilst higher still, amputations of lower limbs have created a rather weird and wonderful sculpted face

The Hornbeam is unique in Gordon Square but blends well with the wooded setting and stands its ground under taller neighbours. Elsewhere in the squares of Bloomsbury, Carpinus betulus form dense boundaries which until now I’ve passed by with a glancing assumption of beech hedging. That’s just one of the reasons I enjoy ‘tree following’ – it hones my somewhat blunted observation skills.
[Question: Why do the hedges not bear catkins and seed pods that could certify id. Does anyone know?]

Useful Links:
Weed ID guide

Tree Following with Lucy: There’s a link box on Loose and Leafy on 7th of the month for 7 days. Every month!


14 thoughts on “Tree Following: That’s birch not beech

  1. That tree is a character! It reminds me of the great talking trees in “The Wizard of Oz.” The seedpods have a fascinating form. It’s obviously in good company with the lovely wildflowers at its base.


  2. It’s hard to believe that these pictures are in London. It’s a very long time since we lived there & I’d forgotten just how many little islands of trees & green spaces there are there. I also remember the hornbeams & oaks at Hoddesden in Hertfordfordshire. My first meeting with hornbeam. We don’t see too many now that we’re back in Northern Ireland.


  3. Laura, your tree looks very grand with it’s height unlike my short stunted specimens, I’ve never seen any flowers or fruit on mine and I’m interested that you say there are none on hedges (I’ve never looked), I like the tangle of wildflowers/weeds at it’s base, home and food for some very wee creatures no doubt, love the looking up under the tree photos, Frances


      1. hello again Laura, I was working near 2 of my hornbeams today and remembering your post from this morning looked more closely to see if there were any flowers/fruits, but no, these hornbeams are 14 years old but short due to wind pruning, I suspect it is the pruning as I have noticed spring flowers are not bountiful here, I also noticed the downy birch had most catkins on the more sheltered side, Frances


  4. Such a difference from last month. This tree has zoomed ahead compared with many of the trees being followed. Luxuriance in the plants beneath it as well as in the density of leaves.


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