The American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) is a small to medium-sized deciduous slow-growing tree. The tree is native to the North Eastern part of America and thrives in a moist environment. The distinct gray trunk or a mature tree has muscle-like flutings. Therefore the tree is also called musclewood or sometimes ironwood. The alternate elliptical-shaped leaves have prominent veins and serrated edges. They turn yellow, orange and red in the fall. The wood of this tree was used to make tools by early Americans. Also called Blue Beech and is similar in trunk and leaf but not in fruit. American hornbeam also called Blue Beech because it is similar in trunk and leaf but not in fruit.
Common name: American Hornbeam, Blue Beech, Ironwood, Musclewood, Water Beech
Scientific Name (order and family): Carpinus caroliniana Walter (Betulaceae, Fagales)
Species Native Origin: Mexico, E. North America
Habit: Small tree or tall shrub. 33 ‘ tall, diameter 6 – 12‘. Moist woods, river banks and swamps
Trunk/Stem: Bark gray, smooth and fluted (muscular).
Leaves: Deciduous, simple, alternate. Ovate in shape, 4” long, tapered tip; rounded to pointed base, margin double toothed (serrated); blade top dark green. Leave turn organ to reed in autumn. The leaf veins are not forking but pinnate, sub-opposite. Petioles short, slender, hairy.
Flowers: Monoecious. Catkin appear before the leaves. In catkins, male staminate flowers 1 1/2” long, yellowish and drooping; female catkins small green at the tip of the shoots borne separately on the same plant.
Fruits and seeds: Fruit, ¼” long, a nutlet, ribbed, hairy green subtended by two-three lobed bract where the central bract is the largest, 1 – 1 ½” long, toothed, green leaf-like bracts clustered in pendulous catkins to 2-4” long.