The Secrets of the Trees
We hold our Mystic Magic in the Forest weekend retreats at Rosliston, in Rosliston National Forest, near Burton upon Trent, just south of Derby in the Midlands. Our retreats are themed, but often include an appreciation of nature, walks, the significance of trees in Spiritual and Pagan history, and their myths and legends
This blog charts the story, in instalments, of those trees, and all of those to be found at Rosliston, around forty species. Each tree is to be found at Rosliston, but may also be found more widely around Great Britain, Europe, North America and beyond.
In these blogs I describe each tree, explain where they are found, what their history is and how they have related to our history. I also explore the myths and legends surrounding the trees in different countries and from different traditions as well as how herbalists have used them to treat human conditions and how products from the trees have been used throughout history.
I hope that you enjoy reading these tree blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them for you. If you would like to come and see them in their natural habitat why not join us for one of our retreats?
Hornbeam – carpinus betulus
The common English name hornbeam derives from the hardness of the woods (likened to horn) and the Old English beam “tree”.
The American hornbeam is also occasionally known as blue-beech, ironwood, or musclewood, the first from the resemblance of the bark to that of the American beech Fagus grandifolia, the other two from the hardness of the wood and the muscular appearance of the trunk, respectively.
Hornbeams are small to medium-sized trees, Carpinus betulus reaching a height of 32 m. The leaves are deciduous, alternate, and simple with a serrated margin, and typically vary from 3–10 cm in length.
The flowers are wind-pollinated pendulous catkins, produced in spring. The male and female flowers are on separate catkins, but on the same tree (monoecious). The fruit is a small nut about 3–6 mm long, held in a leafy bract; the bract may be either trilobed or simple oval, and is slightly asymmetrical.
The asymmetry of the seedwing makes it spin as it falls, improving wind dispersal. The shape of the wing is important in the identification of different hornbeam species. Typically, 10–30 seeds are on each seed catkin.
The 30–40 species occur across much of the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, with the greatest number of species in east Asia, particularly China. Only two species occur in Europe, only one in eastern North America, and one in Mesoamerica. Carpinus betulus can be found in Europe, Turkey and Ukraine.
Hornbeams are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including autumnal moth, common emerald, feathered thorn, walnut sphinx, Svensson’s copper underwing, and winter moth.
Hornbeams yield a very hard timber, giving rise to the name “ironwood”, blunting saws quickly. Dried heartwood billets are nearly white and are suitable for decorative use. For general carpentry, hornbeam is rarely used, partly due to the difficulty of working it. The wood is used to construct carving boards, tool handles, hand plane soles, coach wheels, piano actions, shoe lasts, and other products where a very tough, hard wood is required.
The wood can also be used as gear pegs in simple machines, including traditional windmills. It is sometimes coppiced to provide hardwood poles. It is also used in parquet flooring and for making chess pieces.
People born in June are said to have fallen from the Hornbeam tree, Romans used the Hornbeam for their Chariots. Hampton Court’s Maze in London was originally of Hornbeam before being replaced with yew and Holly, in London the tree was harvested for charcoal.