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

 Native Plant Database

Carpinus caroliniana

American hornbeam, Blue beech, Water beech, Musclewood, Ironwood

Betulaceae (Birch Family)

Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam)
Makin, Julie
American hornbeam or blue beech is a small multi- or single-stemmed tree, 35-50 ft. tall, with a wide-spreading crown that may be uniformly oval or very irregular. Small, shrubby tree with one or more short trunks angled or fluted, long, slender, spreading branches, and broad, rounded crown. The graceful, drooping branches and slender trunk are pale gray, smooth and sinewy with twisting, muscle-like bulges. Shiny, bluish-green, deciduous leaves become scarlet-orange in the fall. The hanging fruit is papery in texture.

The word hornbeam, originally given to the European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus L.), is from the words horn (for toughness) and beam (for tree) and refers to the very hard tough wood. The small size of this species limits uses to tool handles and wooden articles. The name beech has been misapplied to this member of the birch family, because of the similar bark. Deer browse the twigs and foliage, and grouse, pheasants, and quail eat the nutlets.

Image Gallery:

21 photo(s) available

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Green
Size Class: 12-36 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Red , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May


USA: AL , AR , CT , DE , FL , GA , IL , IN , IA , KY , LA , ME , MD , MA , MI , MN , MS , MO , NH , NJ , NY , NC , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VT , VA , WV , WI , DC
Canada: NS , ON , QC
Native Distribution: Southern Ontario and central ME s. to c. FL, w. to e. MN, e. IA , AR, & e. TX, with separate populations in central and southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Native Habitat: Shaded woods, Stream, river banks, Flood plains, bottomland

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Moist, rich, deep soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Acid-based
Conditions Comments: Blue beech works best as an understory tree in low, shady places, though it shows remarkable adaptability to drier, sunnier sites. It will tolerate periodic flooding. Leaves are occasionally attacked by black mold. It is a slow-grower. The European C. betulus is the more widely plant species but has less desirable fall foliage and its trunk is obscured by lower branching.


Use Ornamental: Understory tree, Fall conspicuous
Use Wildlife: Fruit-mammals, Fruit-birds.
Use Other: The name Hornbeam has reference to the extreme hardness of the wood - horn for toughness, and beam, an old word for tree. Hornbeam has been utilized for levers and handles of striking implements, but, as it cannot be obtained in large quantities from so small a tree, it is employed chiefly by local tool makers and does not figure as a wood of commerce. (Peattie)
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Striped hairstreak, Red-spotted Purple, Tiger swallow-tail.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

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

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Striped Hairstreak
(Satyrium liparops)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2015-11-13