Here in Gordon Square, I am happy to be back following in the footsteps of the Hornbeam, having missed a June update with holidays and hospitals.
Despite a wet, wet winter, the summer trees are starting to look just that bit faded and jaded. Part of the reason for the slightly tired appearance of the Hornbeam is not thirst but the ripening hop-like seed clusters which streak the foliage with Autumnal tints. Look underneath the canopy though and once again it’s a reassuring palette of dark emeralds.
In some lights, the wonderful, fluted bark resembles ebony as though the branches have been polished by the frequent clamberings of children (not that it would be permitted in these timorous times, or even be a possibility with the lower branches pruned). Nearest to the base, the Hornbeam’s trunk is starting to display more rugged, mature looks, although it has a long way to go before it reaches full maturity at about 100.
In the momentary stillness between breezes, the pendulous seedcases reveal small ribbed fruits, held in tri-lobed palms. Apparently it takes 10-20 years from seed before a Hornbeam will be mature enough to reproduce so that puts this one as a young adolescent, at least. Perhaps this also answers the puzzle I posed in the May post as to why the hornbeam hedges around the Bloomsbury squares have no catkins.
The height and relative narrowness of the canopy has enabled the undergrowth to flourish. Most notably now it is bramble which puts on a protective front and in the flanks, the distinctly toothed leaves of the Corsican hellebores (looking good whatever the season).
Almost unnoticed in this entanglement, is a young shoot that looks remarkably like a Hornbeam – which indeed it is. Not a sapling from seed but a basal shoot. Perhaps it would be better without this sucker but I would not mention it to Council officials for fear the chainsaw contractors will be sent out.
And that about wraps up this month – I have to admit I’m becoming a bit of a sucker for Hornbeams.