Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - July 22, 2013

From: The Woodlands, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification, Trees
Title: Plant ID from The Woodlands TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Your plant database does not distinguish 2 native tree species. Common names for these 2 trees: American hophornbeam and ironwood or musclewood. These common names are used for both trees - even more confusing. My question is: What is the correct Latin names for the tree with shaggy bark and the tree with smooth muscle-like bark? These trees are definitely different, but your database leaves me confused.

ANSWER:

If you follow this plant link Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam) to our webpage on this plant, you will find this sentence:

"The graceful, drooping branches and slender trunk are pale gray, smooth and sinewy with twisting, muscle-like bulges." This USDA Plant Profile Map shows that the American hornbeam is native to Montgomery County.

There are six native North American trees having the common name "ironwood":

1. Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam) - discussed above.

2. Lyonothamnus floribundus (Catalina ironwood) - Native Distribution: Only on Santa Rose, Santa Cruz, Santa Catalina, and San Clemente Islands of California; at 500-2000 (152-610 m).

3. Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius (Fernleaf catalina ironwood) - Native Distribution: Channel Islands, CA

4. Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. floribundus (Catalina ironwood) - Native Distribution: South Channel Islands (Santa Catalina Island), California, endemic. Threatened by feral animals.

5. Olneya tesota (Desert ironwood) - Native Distribution: S. AZ, s.e. CA, Sonora & Baja CA
Native Habitat: Foothill washes; low desert areas

6. Ostrya virginiana (Eastern hop-hornbeam) - Loose bark, in narrow, rectilinear strips, covers the often twisting trunk. USDA Plant Profile Map shows this one also native to Montgomery County.

You will notice that only the first, Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam), is in the Betulaceae (Birch) family. I think we are caught up in the "common name" syndrome once again. If you wish to further attempt to distinguish these trees, follow each plant link above to our webpage on that plant, scroll down to "Additional Resources" and click on the link to Google on that plant. We are betting that only Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam) and Ostrya virginiana (Eastern hop-hornbeam) are present where you garden, and they are not even closely related to each other.

 

From the Image Gallery


American hornbeam
Carpinus caroliniana

Catalina ironwood
Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. floribundus

Desert ironwood
Olneya tesota

Eastern hop-hornbeam
Ostrya virginiana

More Plant Identification Questions

Visual differences among members of the Apiaceae
July 21, 2012 - What is the visual difference between queen anne's lace and hemlock and cowslip parsley? I live in Marin county, California and have often been confused as to which is what? Thank you!
view the full question and answer

Identity of an Astragalus species near Terlingua, TX
May 14, 2013 - I have been photographing as many of the wildflowers that I can this Spring 2013 season here in the Big Bend Area between BBNP, Terlingua and Alpine, TX. Two days ago I took a drive from Terlingua to ...
view the full question and answer

Identity of and how to get rid of plant in planter in Indiana
May 17, 2013 - We moved to Mooresville Ind. (Brooklyn area) 3 yrs ago. In one of the 12x12 planters out back, these one THINGS keep cutting back and spreading everywhere. They are tall, hollow stem, seems like ther...
view the full question and answer

Plant identification, possibly Phytolacca americana (American pokeweed)
August 20, 2010 - I have a patch of plants I can't find what they are, could you help? The plant is a tuber (resembles a carrot when it is small), the stalk is red and fibrous, comes back each year bigger, has green ...
view the full question and answer

Identification of flower in book
August 12, 2015 - Hi, I make paper flowers and I came across this flower in my book under the name camellia. But I am sure it is not. I tried finding out similar flowers but i am lost as I don't know if such a flower ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.