Fastigiate European Hornbeam
Carpinus betula ‘Fastigiata’
Columnar trees are becoming more popular with spaces getting smaller and tighter in our cities. One very popular variety for a long time has been the Fastigiate European Hornbeam. However, the name, as well as the tree, is a bit misleading. In youth, this tree is very narrow (as shown in the photo below); however, with age, the crown will widen out to as much as 25′ to 35′ wide (photo to the left). Based on Michael A. Dirr, and our experience, there can be variation within the fastigiate types. In any case, this has still proven to be one of the most dependable street and landscape trees to use. It is excellent for screening, hedges, groupings around large buildings, in malls, or planter boxes. It tolerates pruning, as well as, or better than most plants. It is possibly most distinctive with age, when planted on both sides of a planting strip or corridor. It is as if someone has meticulously pruned its crown to achieve a perfect oval-vase shape. The leaves are small and turn yellow in the fall. These are born on distinct fan-ribbed branches along dominant or co-dominant leaders.
If you are looking for the ‘Frans Fontaine’ cultivar, this one is shown to the right. It is said to reach 30′ to 35′ in height and only widens out by 15′ to 18′ Except for this more narrow long term form, I have not been as impressed with the Franz Fontaine as I had hoped. As the photo shows, the Franz Fontaine, although narrow, is less uniform in outline and texture, certainly not as formal or well kept in its appearance.
Overall; however, Hornbeams are an excellent group of trees, with few insect and disease problems. They tolerate most soils and most soil conditions. They transplant well and seldom show any dieback from stress. I have never seen them cause sidewalk damage, although they are planted in the smallest of spaces. They are what some of us in the industry like to call one of the “Bullet Proof Trees”. Comments on your experiences with these or other trees are appreciated.
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