American Hornbeam

 (Carpinus caroliniana)



Photo by Josh Schwartz


Bark & Leaf

Carpinus caroliniana Walter subsp. virginiana (Marshall) Furlow image         Large Photo of Carpinus caroliniana





    Large Photo of Carpinus caroliniana



Large Photo of Carpinus caroliniana 

Family: Betulaceae

(Birch Family)


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.


Distribution Map

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Physical Characteristics:


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.


Interesting Facts:


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.


Webpage References:

Additional References:


Furlow, J. L. 1987. The Carpinus caroliniana complex in North America.  I. Multivariate

analysis of geographic variation.  Systematic Botany 12: 21-40.