Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Ptelea trifoliata

Wafer ash, Common hoptree, Hop tree

Rutaceae (Rue Family)

Ptelea trifoliata (Wafer ash)
Marcus, Joseph A.
Aromatic shrub or small tree with a rounded crown. The trunk is slender and crooked, bearing interwoven, ascending branches. Bark, crushed foliage, and twigs have a slightly lemonlike, unpleasant musky odor. Trifoliate, deciduous leaves with leaflets on a petiole up to 2 inches long, the terminal leaflet up to 2 1/2 inches long, obovate, tapering more gradually to the base than to the tip, midrib of lateral leaflets off center. Leaves are dark-green in summer, turning yellow in fall. Flowers small, greenish white, in clusters among the leaves, appearing in April. Fruit distinctive, waferlike samara with broad wings, approximately 7/8 inch long by 3/4 inch wide.

This widespread species includes many varieties with leaflets of differing sizes and shapes. The common name refers to a reported use in earlier days of the bitter fruit as a substitute for hops in brewing beer. The bitter bark of the root, like other aromatic barks, has been used for home remedies. The northernmost New World representative of the Rue (Citrus) family.

Image Gallery:

48 photo(s) available

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Trifoliate
Size Notes: 10-15
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Green
Size Class: 12-36 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Apr


USA: AL , AZ , AR , CO , CT , DE , FL , GA , IL , IN , IA , KS , KY , LA , ME , MD , MA , MI , MN , MS , MO , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NY , NC , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , UT , VT , VA , WV , WI , DC
Canada: ON , QC
Native Distribution: W. NY to c. MI, s.e. IA & s.e. KS, s. to FL & TX; introduced in n. Midwest states & New England
Native Habitat: Alluvial thickets; rocky slopes; gravelly places

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low , Medium , High
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Wet , Moist , Dry
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Soil Description: Moist to dry, well-drained loams. Sandy, Medium Loam Sandy Loam, Clay Loam Clay, Limestone-based, Acid-based, Calcareous.
Conditions Comments: It is an attractive, tall shrub or small understory tree, for both moist conditions and dry rocky sites. If grown in full sun and cut back, wafer ash will be quite bushy. Sweet nectar of this plant attracts many species of butterflies. All parts are aromatic. Prefers moist soil such as a watered garden or seep area.


Use Ornamental: Fruits ornamental, Blooms ornamental, Accent tree or shrub, Aromatic
Use Wildlife: Provides food and shelter for birds and mammals. Nectar-butterflies
Use Other: The fruits have been used in beer as a substitute for hops, hence the name hop-tree. (Kershaw)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Fragrant Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail
Nectar Source: yes
Deer Resistant: High

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Ptelea trifoliata is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
(Papilio glaucus)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Giant Swallowtail
(Papilio cresphontes)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2009-04-23