River Birch and Hornbeam

The two species in the Yard from the birch family are the American hornbeam and the river birch. It is very hard to mistake the two, especially the river birch. Some species of birch are known for their peeling bark, and the river birch is no exception. The orange-brown bark is smooth on the young branches, but exfoliates into orange peels as it ages. Birches are commonly found in groups of three, but this one has only one trunk. This will better allow it to grow vertical in a canopy-like fashion.

This young river birch (the only one in the Yard) has a prominent location near the bus stop at Holyoke Gate.

The second member of the Birch family in the Yard is the hornbeam. Its leaves are very similar to elm leaves and beech leaves (which is why it is also known as the blue beech), so the best way to tell it apart in its Yard habitat is by its bark. Hornbeam bark is its smooth, irregular, and bluish-gray. The trunk looks like a bunch of twisted muscles, a trait that remains for the life of the tree. It also is a very shrub-like tree, so it won't be upright in form. There are 8 hornbeams in the Yard, with locations near Holden Chapel, Canaday, and Quincy Gate. A large hornbeam (25-30 feet tall) can be found in the Eliot House courtyard. In the wild, they typically don't get more than 40 feet tall.

The hornbeam has a short, but spreading crown. Don't look for it in the major canopy sections of the Yard. Its form looks nice next to buildings.

The fruit of the Hornbeam hanging from the branch

Virginia Tech Dendrology info - river birch, hornbeam

Created by Ryan Lynch

Map template courtesy the Harvard Planning and Allston Initiative

Last updated May 2, 2007