Recently renovated, the hornbeam arbours of Villa Visconti Borromeo Litta are composed of 300 examples of white hornbeams. In an overall scenic view, it is the longest hornbeam avenue of Europe and extends to over 800 m in length. The botanical setup of the hornbeam walkway has a U-shape and is surrounded by the lawn with flowerbeds divided into four sections, with the Fountain of Neptune in the center. Half of the cross-corridors walkways were created so as to allow visitors to interact with the other parts of the park, and above all, to contemplate the fountain through the charming, purposely created view points.
Unlike the hornbeam walkway of Villa Arconati in Bollate, the one of Villa Visconti Borromeo Litta seems thick and shady, able to ensure fresh shades in the sunny days, and make the guest recall the strolling of dames and nobles under the shadow of the hornbeams, amid the green labyrinths and water plays of the noble home.
If history could be considered as a significant element to call up charming memories, a close observation of the hornbeam could be a surprising discovery. The pointed leaves on the branches in fact, are alternate, oval shaped, and more or less elongated with a rounded base and dual-dented edges. They have 10-15 pairs of parallel veins and reddish stalks. The leaves are of an intense green on the upper face and lighter underneath. In autumn the leaves turn golden yellow, and become darker in winter. The hornbeam belongs to the Betulaceae family, and is a deciduous plant. However, this plant has the characteristic of keeping the leaves dry all winter and loses them only at the start of spring, upon the emission of new sprouts. Due to this feature the white hornbeam still today, is used to form particularly complex labyrinths or hornbeam walkways, and also to create domes inspired by religious architectures.
In the hornbeam walkway of Villa Visconti Borromeo Litta, one can clearly perceive that the species is a monoecious one, meaning that it bears female and male flowers on the same plant. These are in fact reunited in the unisex inflorescences (catkins). The male flowers appear on the branches the preceding year and are arranged in spikes (dangling catkins) that can be 5 cm in length. The female ones, with crimson stigmas, are gathered in shorter catkins and on the new branches. The fruits, are like small nuts called acorns, triangular in shape and ribbed. The fruits moreover grow in groups of eight pairs, each protected by a tri-lobed bract. The trunk of the plant is ribbed but the bark is smooth and grayish in colour, and peels off only when the tree reaches maturity.
Very much appreciated by tourists and visitors of the park, the hornbeam arbour of Villa Visconti Borromeo Litta is still today an attraction for botanists and nature lovers, who in the Villa’s park can find many other vegetable essences of undisputable value.