November 2023 - American Hornbeam

Common Name: American Hornbeam

Botanical Name: Carpinus caroliniana

Alternative Names: Blue Beech, Ironwood, Musclewood, and Water Beech

Native Range: Zone 3-9. American Hornbeam is native to Eastern North America, from Minnesota and southern Ontario east to Maine, and south to eastern Texas and northern Florida.

Height: Carpinus caroliniana is a medium-sized deciduous tree growing 20’-30’.

Spread: Its crown is typically as wide as it is tall.

Form: A deciduous, native forest understory tree, making it useful for shady landscapes and naturalized or woodland gardens. Often has irregular form.

Growth Rate: Slow growth rate. Grows on average 8’-10’ over a 10-year period.

Sun: Can tolerate dense shade and sun.

Soil: Medium moisture. Best grown in acidic, moist, organically rich, well-drained soils.

Leaf Description: Simple dark-green leaves are coarsely serrated and often turn shades of yellow, orange, and red in the fall.

Flower Description: Flowers are green catkins and bloom from April until June. Monoecious. Male flowers are 1 to 1½ inches long; female flowers are 2 to 3 inches long with three-lobed bracts. American Hornbeam is in the Birch Family. Flowers resemble the Birch catkin.

Fruit: Hornbeam fruits are a very unusual shape. Each heart-shaped fruit is attached to a leafy three-lobed structure known as a bract, which assists wind-dispersal.

Bark Description: The smooth, gray, muscular-looking bark of American hornbeam is attractive year-round. The tree's look is enhanced by its crooked trunk and pendulous, zig-zagging branches, which help attract wildlife.

Fall Color: Emerging reddish-purple in spring, the foliage turns dark green as the season progresses before turning shades of yellow to orange-red in the fall.

Wildlife Benefit: American hornbeam is of secondary importance to wildlife. Ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasant, and northern bobwhite eat small quantities of the seeds, buds, and catkins. Seeds are consumed by yellow-rumped warbler.


• Wet site tolerant.

• Heavy Shade

• Does not tolerate constant transplanting.

• Once established American Hornbeam is adaptable to urban conditions.

Possible Disease and Insect Problems: Leaf spot, canker, twig blight.

Uses: Excellent for naturalized plantings, can be used as a street tree if upright cultivars are selected.

Where to be found on municipal property: Newly planted street tree American Hornbeams can be seen at 170 and 226 Moore Street.

Additional Facts:

• American hornbeam has very dense, hard wood that is often used for tool handles, longbows, walking sticks, and golf clubs.

• This tree is sometimes called “Musclewood” due to the muscled appearance of its bark.

• The American hornbeam is resistant to many pests and diseases.

• American hornbeam was used by American pioneers for making dishes such as bowls.

• The shape of the bud is an identifying difference between the American hornbeam and the closely related European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). European Hornbeam has a curved bud. American hornbeam has a straight bud.

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Dirr, Michael A., Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses, 5th Edition, Stipes Publishing L.L.C., 1998, pp. 692-693.