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Purple Hornbeam - Carpinus betulus purpurea, click for a larger image
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Purple Hornbeam - Carpinus betulus purpurea
Family - Betulaceae

Purple hornbeam is a slow to moderate growing densely branched cultivar of the Hornbeam, one of around 25 members of the Carpinus species of the Birch family (Betulaceae) growing in the right conditions to 15m (50ft) with a 7m (23ft) spread.  It is named for purple colour of its young growth in the spring and summer, these fade to a dark green during the summer eventually becoming a yellow in the autumn.

It is exceptionally shade tolerant and grows well in the understorey becoming a large ornamental tree with time.  Alternate purple leaves at first fading to green green are broadly ovate doubly toothed 7–12cm long (3–5in) long and almost as broad, terminating in a point.  Its leaf veins retain a purplish tinge whilst the leaf stalks are more red.  It is an attractive tree in a park or woodland setting that can tolerate drought conditions better than other Hornbeam species.

As a group Hornbeam are about 25 species of hardy, slow–growing ornamental and timber trees constituting the genus Carpinus of the Birch family (Betulaceae), distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Purple Hornbeam - Carpinus betulus purpurea, click for a larger image Purple Hornbeam - Carpinus betulus purpurea, click for a larger image

Update - Hornbeam and possibly Purple Hornbeam, have been found to be susceptible to Phytophthora fungal infections, similar to Sudden Oak Death, a disease caused by a fungus–like pathogen Phytophthora ramorum.  Widespread in the U.S., with recent reports of the disease in the UK, mainly affecting many Oak species it has also been found on several other species, including Douglas fir and Camelia.  Some species are prone to lethal trunk infections, whilst other plants are infected with supposedly more benign foliar and twig infections, with these foliar infections playing a key role in spread of P. ramorum by acting as an infected reservoir.  Rhododendron spp. has been determined as a major source of P. ramorum.  Mortality is most common where Oaks and these foliar hosts are found growing together.  Purple Hornbeam is noted for being resistant to honey fungus.

For more information see the following links –

Royal Horticultural Society - Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum) in the UK.
Forestry Commission - Phytophthora ramorum. - California Oak Mortality Task Force.

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