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Carpinus caroliniana

Common Name(s):
American hornbeam, Blue beech, Ironwood, Musclewood, Water beech
Native Plants, Trees
Carpinus caroliniana, commonly called American hornbeam, is a slow-growing, deciduous, small to medium-sized understory tree with an attractive globular form.  It typically grows to 20-35' tall. The smooth, gray trunk and larger branches of a mature tree exhibit a distinctive muscle-like fluting that has given rise to another common name of musclewood for this tree.
The American Hornbeam is a short, stubby tree that can have one or more trunks, each a foot wide.  The bark is bluish-gray, thin, fairly smooth, and heavily fluted. 
The extremely hard wood of this tree will, as the common name suggests, take a horn-like polish and was once used by early Americans to make bowls, tool handles and ox yokes. Commercial use of hornbeam wood is not practicable, however, due to the limited amount of wood that can be harvested per tree.

 Regions:  Mountain, Piedmont, Coastal Plains

Seasons of Interest: 

     Leaves:   Fall     Bloom:  Early spring     Fruit/Seed/Nut:  Fall

Play Value: Wind Screen & Buffers; Wildlife Enhancement

Wildlife Value:  This plant is moderately resistant to damage from deer.  It is a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Red-spotted Purple butterflies.  The seed and buds are eaten by songbirds, ruffed grouse, quail, wild turkeys, foxes, and squirrels.  On young specimens, the inner bard is eaten by beavers and rabbitts.  These plants also provide good cover and shelter for animals.

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  Leaf spots, cankers, and twig blight are occasional disease problems of the American hornbeam.

20-30 ft.
The flowers on the American Hornbeam appear in spring in separate male (yellow-green) and female (yellow-green) catkins, with the female catkins giving way to distinctive clusters of winged nutlets. The nutlets are small and ribbed and are carried by a 3-lobed leafy bracht. In botany, a bract is a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower, inflorescence axis or cone scale. Bracts are often (but not always) different from foliage leaves. They may be smaller, larger, or of a different color, shape, or texture.
The American Hornbeam grows best in average, medium moisture soil in part shade to full shade. It prefers moist, organically rich soils.
Wide-spreading flat or round top; single or multi-stemmed
Part shade, shade
20-30 ft.
Growth Rate:
Serrated, elliptic-oval, dark green leaves often produce respectable shades of yellow, orange and red in fall. The leaves are 2.5-5 inches, alternate, and simple.
naturalize, cpp, fall color, playground, deciduous, street tree, play, host plant, butterflies, songbirds, children’s garden

NCCES plant id: 1930

Carpinus Caroliniana Carpinus Caroliniana
Homer Edward Price, CC BY - 2.0
Carpinus Caroliniana Carpinus Caroliniana
Scott Zona, CC BY-NC-2.0
Carpinus Caroliniana Carpinus Caroliniana
Suzanne Caldwell, CC BY-NC-2.0
Carpinus Caroliniana Carpinus Caroliniana
Melissa McMasters, CC BY - 2.0
Carpinus Caroliniana Carpinus Caroliniana
Phillip Bouchard, CC BY-NC-ND - 2.0
Carpinus Caroliniana Carpinus Caroliniana
Wendy Cutler, CC BY - 2.0
Carpinus Caroliniana Carpinus Caroliniana
Wendy Cutler, CC BY - 2.0