The Hop Hornbeam is a substantial tree on the southern side of what is known amongst the Garden staff as the ‘Fairway’, a long finger of sward that projects eastwards towards Hills Road, adjacent to the South Walk.
In spring the light green leaves emerge pleated, opening out to a pointed, toothed oval. The female catkins develop into beautiful, pendulous, fruiting structures containing many seeds, each fully enclosed in its own diamond-shaped paper case. These are arranged in an overlapping, whorled pattern to form dangling plaited-effect paper lanterns, resembling hop cones. The foliage turns a beautiful golden yellow in autumn.
This tree is part of a group with Zelkova (Caucasian Elm) and Pterocarya (Caucasian Wingnut) planted to illustrate deciduous species which once existed in Britain. They were extinguished during the ice-age cold periods, and never returned in the present, warm interglacial. These “Tertiary trees”, planted by John Gilmour, Director of the Botanic Garden from 1951- 1973, are a sad loss from our current British woodlands. You can see these trees today in the beautiful forests of the Caucasus region.