Photo by Josh Schwartz
Bark & Leaf
Habitat: This shade-tolerant tree grows,
typically as an understory tree, in moist
woods and wet sites providing adequate
drainage. It can be found adjacent to
wetlands and streams, in ravines and
slopes along lowlands.
Found mostly in the eastern United States
except the lowermost Gulf Coastal Plain
and the Mississippi embayment south of
Missouri. Areas include: central Maine
west to southwestern Quebec, southeastern
Ontario, northern Michigan, and northern
Minnesota, south to central Iowa and
eastern Texas, east to central Florida.
Leaves: Dark green, turning yellow to
orange in the fall, 3-12 cm long, with
doubly-serrated edges, ovate to elliptical,
deciduous. Glabrous above, slightly to
moderately covered with fine hairs
beneath, with or without noticeable dark
Flowers: Catkins (a slim, cylindrical flower
cluster, with inconspicuous or no petals),
unisexual, and Monoecious (containing
both staminate and pistillate flowers). Male,
staminate 2-6 cm long, female, pistillate
1-2.5 cm long.
Fruits: An ovoid, ribbed, nutlet 4-6 mm long,
held underneath by a 3-winged, narrow,
leaf-like bract that holds together chain-like
clusters 2.5-12 cm long which change from
green to brown during the months of
September and October.
Stems: Large, slender, dark brown, hairy.
Trunk: The bark is smooth, thin and gray
and looks somewhat like a flexed muscle
because of its lengthwise fluting.
Roots: Shallow, wide spreading root system.
A number of animal species use the
hornbeam for food as well as shelter.
Seeds, buds, or catkins are eaten by
songbirds, ruffed grouse, ring-necked
pheasants, bobwhite, turkey, fox, and
gray squirrels. Cottontails, beaver, and
white-tailed deer eat the leaves, twigs,
and larger stems. Beaver uses American
hornbeam for building dams, because it
is readily available in typical beaver habitat.
Alternate names include ironwood,
musclewood (trunk resembles the shape
of a flexed muscle), muscle beech, blue
beech, water beech.
Although the wood of the hornbeam is not
of major economic importance due to its
small size, historically the durability (the
wood does not split or crack) has driven
many people to use it to make mallet heads,
tool handles, levers, bowls and dishes, and
other small, hard, wooden objects.
The common name, beam, is an old English
word for tree, with horn. This name suggests
an analogy between the hard, close-grained
woods to the tough material of horns.
Furlow, J. L. 1987. The Carpinus caroliniana complex in North America. I. Multivariate
analysis of geographic variation. Systematic Botany 12: 21-40.