It is a small to medium-size tree reaching heights of 15–25 m, rarely 30 m, and often has a fluted and crooked trunk. The bark is smooth and greenish-grey, even in old trees. The buds, unlike those of the beech, are 10 mm long at the most, and pressed close to the twig. The leaves are alternate, 4–9 cm long, with prominent veins giving a distinctive corrugated texture, and a serrated margin. It is monoecious, and the wind pollinated male and female catkins appear in May after the leaves. The fruit is a small 7–8 mm long nut, partially surrounded by a three-pointed leafy involucre 3–4 cm long; it matures in autumn. The seeds often do not germinate till the spring of the second year after sowing. The hornbeam is a prolific seeder and is marked by vigorous natural regeneration. This one is high 15.5m with a diameter of 25 cm.
Western Asia; central, eastern, and southern Europe; including southern England. It requires a warm climate for good growth, and occurs only at elevations up to 600 metres. It grows in mixed stands with oak, and in some areas beech, and is also a common tree in scree forests.