Tree spotlight no.5 – the Hophornbeam

Hophornbeam

Hophornbeam or Ostrya is a genus of eight to ten small deciduous trees belonging to the birch family Betulaceae. Its common name is hophornbeam in American English and hop-hornbeam in British English. It may also be called ironwood, a name shared with a number of other plants.

The genus is native in southern Europe, southwest and eastern Asia, and North and Central America. They have a conical or irregular crown and a scaly, rough bark. They have alternate and double-toothed birch-like leaves 3–10 cm long. The flowers are produced in spring, with male catkins 5–10 cm long and female gaments 2–5 cm long. The fruit form in pendulous clusters 3–8 cm long with 6–20 seeds; each seed is a small nut 2–4mm long, fully enclosed in a bladder-like involucre.

hophornbeam details

The wood is very hard and heavy; the name Ostrya is derived from the Greek word ostrua, “bone-like”, referring to the very hard wood. Regarded as a weed tree by some foresters, this hard and stable wood was historically used to fashion plane soles. Ostrya species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including winter moth, walnut sphinx, and Coleophora Ostryae. 

Colour/ Appearance: Wide sapwood is white to pale yellow.

Heartwood is a light brown, sometimes with a reddish hue.

Overall appearance can be very similar to birch.

Rot resistance: Heartwood is rated as non-durable to perishable regarding decay resistance, and is also susceptible to insect attack.

Workability: Overall, a difficult wood to work. Hophornbeam has high cutting resistance, (which also means that the finished wood product has good wear resistance). Reacts poorly to steam bending attempts. Turns, glues, and finishes well.

Odour :No characteristic odor.

Allergies/ Toxicity: Hophornbeam has been reported to cause skin irritation.

Pricing/ Availability: because of its small size, Hophornbeam is seldom harvested commercially. Likely to be limited in availability, even within its natural range. Expect prices to be high for a domestic hardwood.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Common Uses: furniture, canes, tool handles, and other turned objects.

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