Hints of Autumn have appeared earlier this year with a premature blackberry and apple harvest whilst trees have faded in their greenery and begun to shed leaves.
The distress of dry, hot summer months has taken its toll and some London street trees are already denuded but in the more pastoral Gordon Square, the process is slower and subtle, akin to the onset of grey in an ageing head of hair.
The Carpinus betulus is lusher than its shrubbier neighbours though the nearby the Lime trees and copper Beech make it appear quite anaemic and déshabillé. Still since hornbeam is remarkable for a dark, fluted trunk I went to review it in the rain when the contours and colour show up best, especially now the canopy has thinned out.
Hornbeam is confused with Beech, related to Birch and has timber that when wet, darkens to ebony. Looking like it has been moulded and folded, then tarred and marbled with orange flashings, this is a remarkable specimen.
Despoiled leaves of the Hornbeam’s single sucker are symptoms of the recent drought though it has taken enough succour from the parent to survive, and whilst the bramble undergrowth is dying back, it simultaneously is putting on new growth.
The majority of hop-like seed cases have ripened and dropped, along with a good deal of leafage, which means that the tree’s crowning glory of golden-yellow foliage will be somewhat of an anti-climax in the fullness of autumn. Hornbeam is also renowned for hanging on to its leaf in winter but that is unlikely to be the case this year. Nevertheless in its semi-nude state, I notice that buds are already forming, along the zig-zag twigs, in readiness for next year.