The common hornbeam is a native of western, central and southern Europe
, extending eastward as far as western Russia
and the Ukraine
. It requires a warm climate
for good growth, and occurs only at elevations up to 600 metres. It grows in mixed stands with oak, and in some areas beech, and is also a common tree in scree forests. It reaches heights of up to 20 metres or more and often has a fluted and crooked trunk. The bark is smooth and greenish-grey, even in old trees. The buds, unlike those of the beech, are 10 mm long at the most, and pressed close to the twig. The leaves are alternate. The male and female catkins appear in May
after the leaves, the fruit matures in late September
. The seed does not germinate till the spring of the second year after sowing. The hornbeam is a prolific seeder and is marked by vigorous, natural regeneration.
A shade-loving tree, it makes moderate demands on soil fertility and moisture. It has a shallow, widespreading root system and is marked by the production of stump sprouts when cut back. Because it stands up well to cutting back and has dense foliage, it has been much used in landscape gardening, mainly as tall hedges and for topiary. The wood is heavy and hard, and is used for tools and building constructions.