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Hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana

Phonetic Spelling
kar-PINE-us kair-oh-lin-ee-AN-uh
Description

American Hornbeam, Musclewood, or Ironwood, is a deciduous tree that may grow 30 to feet tall. It can be found naturally in areas with moist soil including streambanks, riverbanks, and maritime forests. The leaves are alternate with a doubly toothed margin. The bark is smooth, gray to bluish-gray, and heavily fluted. In early spring, yellow-green, male and fuzzy, yellow-green, female flowers mature. The small tree produces a small, ribbed nutlet that is carried by a 3-lobed leafy bract. The American Hornbeam is a short, stubby tree that can have one or more trunks, each a foot wide and aesthetically pleasing. 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 per tree. This plant is moderately resistant to damage from deer but is especially sensitive to drought, heat, and soil compaction. 

Difficult to transplant and best moved in spring. Does well in sandy or clay loams with high organic matter, regular moisture and slightly acidic soils. Does well in heavy shade and is found as an understory tree in forests. Use in naturalized areas or along streams or ponds. It is tolerant of drier sites, some sun and periodic flooding.

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 veins
  • inverted pins
  • fruits a nutlet on 3-lobed bract, lobes basal
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#deciduous#fall color#wildlife plant#native tree#cover plant#shelter#understory tree#street tree#playground#food source#cpp#low flammability#NC native#buffer#ponds#children's garden#fire resistant#edible fruits#naturalizes#screening#Braham Arboretum#fantz#nesting sites#larval host plant#food source fall#food source herbage#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#bird friendly#food source hard-mast fruit#streams
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#deciduous#fall color#wildlife plant#native tree#cover plant#shelter#understory tree#street tree#playground#food source#cpp#low flammability#NC native#buffer#ponds#children's garden#fire resistant#edible fruits#naturalizes#screening#Braham Arboretum#fantz#nesting sites#larval host plant#food source fall#food source herbage#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#bird friendly#food source hard-mast fruit#streams
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Carpinus
    Species:
    caroliniana
    Family:
    Betulaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The wood has been used for tool handles, mallet heads, levers and other small wooden objects. American pioneers used it for bowls and dishes, as it is not subject to cracking.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    E. Canada to SE. U.S.A., NC
    Distribution:
    AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
    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 provide food source for songbirds, ruffed grouse, quail, wild turkeys, foxes, and squirrels.  On young specimens, the inner bark is eaten by beavers and rabbits.  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. - 30 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 20 ft. 0 in. - 35 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Clumping
    Multi-stemmed
    Oval
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    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:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Nut
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The nutlet is 1/3 inch long and is attached to a leaf-like 3-lobed green scale that helps it to be carried by the wind.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    Monoecious (both male and female flowers on the same tree) male catkin is 1-2.5" long, female 3/4 inch long, 3 lobed bracts, 1-1.5" long, middle of lobe the widest.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant 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 Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    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.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Naturalized Area
    Recreational Play Area
    Riparian
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Children's Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rain Garden
    Design Feature:
    Understory Tree
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Black Walnut
    Fire
    Heavy Shade
    Wind