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American hornbeam

Image of gray musclewood tree branches via Missouri Botanical Garden

American hornbeam

TreeNA graphic of hornbeam tree

About the hornbeam tree

American hornbeam (musclewood, ironwood, blue beech) - Carpus caroliniana

Identification: The American hornbeam is a small, deciduous tree also called the "musclewood" for its sinewy-looking, smooth, blue-gray bark. This slow-growing understory tree is a member of the birch family. It produces fuzzy catkins in early summer and winged nutlets later in the season. Leaves are oval and serrated with pointed tips, turning yellow or orange in autumn.  

The American hornbeam is not the same tree as the American hop hornbeam, Ostrya virginiana, another small, native tree sharing the nickname "ironwood."

Height: 20-30 feet 

Preferences: Full sun to full shade. Hardiness zones 3-9

Wildlife value: Songbirds, gamebirds and small mammals eat hornbeam seeds and buds. Larger mammals are known to browse on leaves and twigs. 

Uses: Hornbeam wood is extremely hard and finishes with a "horn-like" polish, giving it its name. It has traditionally been used to make tool handles, golf clubs and bows.

The hornbeam is a small, attractive tree that grows in a variety of conditions, making it well suited to urban environments.