Connected Sustainability | Hornbeam
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Carpinus caroliniana Walter



How to Recognize Me

American hornbeam is a slow-growing, deciduous, small to medium-sized understory tree with an attractive globular form. This native tree is typically found in rich moist woods, valleys, ravine bottoms and rocky slopes along streams. The smooth, gray trunk and larger branches of a mature tree exhibit a distinctive muscle-like fluting that has given rise to another common name of musclewood for this tree.

Its 4” long leaves are deciduous, simple, alternate and ovate to elliptic with doubly serrated edges, dark green, turning yellow to orange or red in the fall, Flowers appear in Spring in separate male and female catkins, with the female catkins giving way to distinctive clusters of winged nutlets. Serrated, elliptic- oval, dark green leaves often produce respectable shades of yellow, orange and red in Fall.


I Hold a Special Place In History

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 that can be harvested per tree.
The hornbeam has no serious insect or disease problems. Its chief liabilities are a relatively slow growth rate and difficulty in transplantation. It is not drought-tolerant.


I Am Special to Wildlife

Seeds, buds or catkins are eaten by a number of songbirds, ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasants, bobwhite, turkey, fox and gray squirrels. Cottontails, beavers and white- tailed deer eat the leaves, twigs and larger stems. It is a typical beaver habitat.

I Am Special to People

Leaves and roots are used as a medicine. The bark is astringent, blood tonic and haemostatic. A decoction of the bark is used to bathe sore muscles. An infusion of the bark can be held in the mouth to relieve the pain of toothache. An infusion of the heartwood has been used in the treatment of lung hemorrhages, coughs and colds, catarrh and kidney problems. It is also used as an herbal steam bath in the treatment of rheumatism.


The Facts

  • Height: 20’-35’
  • Spread: 20’-35’
  • Sun: part shade to full shade Soil: medium moisture; organically rich; acidic
  • Bloom Time: February
  • Bloom Description: white (female), green (male)
  • Flower: separate male and female catkins
  • Fruit: nutlet 4-6 mm long, subtended by a 3-winged, narrow Tolerate: clay soil
  • Suggested Use: street tree, rain garden, naturalized in woodland areas, shade
Noted Trees