Carpinus caroliniana Walter
American hornbeam, Blue beech, Musclewood, Ironwood
Betulaceae (Birch Family)
USDA Symbol: CACA18
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.
From the Image Gallery
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Autumn Foliage: yes
Size Class: 12-36 ft.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Red , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May
DistributionUSA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
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 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.
BenefitUse 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
Learn more at BAMONA
Striped Hairstreak |
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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
Find Seed or Plants
View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.
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National Wetland Indicator Status
From the National Suppliers DirectoryAccording to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:
Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery - Orefield, PA
American Native Nursery - Quakertown, PA
Toadshade Wildflower Farm - Frenchtown, NJ
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Pineywoods Native Plant Center - Nacogdoches, TX
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Georgia Native Plant Society - Atlanta, GA
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE
Wildflower Center Seed BankLBJWC-1298 Collected 2009-09-15 in Montgomery County by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
BibliographyBibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender
Search More Titles in Bibliography
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Carpinus caroliniana in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Carpinus caroliniana in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Carpinus caroliniana
MetadataRecord Modified: 2013-09-07
Research By: TWC Staff