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Carpinus caroliniana Walter
American hornbeam, Blue beech, Musclewood, Ironwood
USDA Symbol: CACA18
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)
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.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Tree Leaf Complexity: Simple Breeding System:
, Monoecious Leaf:
Green Autumn Foliage:
Green Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Red , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May
, WV Canada: NS
, QC Native Distribution:
to c. FL,
w. to e. MN,
& e. TX; also Mex. Native Habitat:
Shaded woods, Stream, river banks, Flood plains, bottomland
Growing ConditionsWater 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.
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.
PropagationPropagation Material: Seeds
Description: Sow fresh, slightly green seed outdoors in fall or fully dried and stratified seed in spring. Best grown in water permeable, in-ground cloth containers (drip sacks), for the root system is very vigorous.
Seed Collection: Collect nutlets in late summer or early fall when bracts have turned a pale, greenish-brown. Spread on screens to dry, then beat inside a bag to separate seeds from chaff. Place fresh seeds in cold storage.
Seed Treatment: Stratify for 2-3 months at 41 degrees.
Commercially Avail: yes
Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)
is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
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National Wetland Indicator Status
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1
(Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here
for map of regions.
Wildflower Center Seed BankLBJWC-1298
Collected 2013-09-16 in Montgomery County by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Record Last Modified: 2013-09-07
Research By: TWC Staff