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Carpinus caroliniana

Description

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. This plant is moderately resistant to damage from deer.

Fire Risk: This plant has a low flammability rating.

Seasons of Interest: 

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

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

Quick ID Hints:

  • alternate leaves, simple
  • older bark is slate gray with muscle appearance
  • leaves weakly doubly serrate, parallel veinss
  • inverted pins
  • fruits a nutlet on 3-lobed bract, lobes basal

Small, multi stemmed, deciduous, bushy shrub, or single stem tree 

Older branches develop a slate gray, smooth, irregularly fluted appearance; overall appearance is similar to a flexed bicep muscle, hence the common name muscle wood. 

Difficult to transplant, best moved in spring. Does well in rich moist slightly acid soils. Does well in heavy shade and is found as an understory tree in forests.

Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#deciduous#fall color#songbirds#wildlife plant#native tree#cover plant#shelter#host plant#street tree#playground#cpp#low flammability#NC native#buffer#children's garden#fire resistant#edible fruits#naturalizes#screening#Braham Arboretum#fantz#nesting sites#larval host plant
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#deciduous#fall color#songbirds#wildlife plant#native tree#cover plant#shelter#host plant#street tree#playground#cpp#low flammability#NC native#buffer#children's garden#fire resistant#edible fruits#naturalizes#screening#Braham Arboretum#fantz#nesting sites#larval host plant
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Carpinus
    Species:
    caroliniana
    Family:
    Betulaceae
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    E. Canada to SE. U.S.A., NC
    Distribution:
    Throughout eastern United States, throughout Wisconsin
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    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.
    Play Value:
    Buffer
    Edible fruit
    Screening
    Wildlife Food Source
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Fire in the landscape.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 20 ft. 0 in. - 35 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 6 in. - 3 ft. 4 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Clumping
    Multi-stemmed
    Oval
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    Usda Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Nut
    Fruit Description:
    A nut, bourne at base of 1-1.5" long, 3 lobed bract, 1" wide
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Green
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    Monoecious, male, 1-2.5" long, female, 2-3" long, 3 lobed bracts, 1-1.5" long, middle of lobe the widest.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Orange
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Oblong
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Doubly Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Dull bluish green surface, paler underside, and sharp teeth. Alternate, simple, 2.5-5" long, 1-2" wide, ovate-oblong, doubly serrate, glabrous
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Ridges
    Smooth
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Irregular
    Bark Description:
    Smooth, tight, thin and bluish-gray stretched over an irregularly ridged trunk
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Recreational Play Area
    Riparian
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Children's Garden
    Edible Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Fire