Notable Natives: American Hornbeam - A Value Native Tree or Hedge
By Susu Fiske, Inland Bays Garden Center | Special to the Coastal Point | Feb 16, 2023
American hornbeam, a wonderful native plant — carpinus caroliniana, also known as musclewood, ironwood and blue beech — is a small tree/large shrub that grows in the understory. It is a slow-growing tree that has beautiful, muscley looking, gray bark and striking fall color.
Spring flowers show as male and female furry catkins, with groups of winged nutlets following later. The longer catkin is the female, about 4 inches, and the shorter is the male. Hornbeams are around 15 years old when they start bearing seeds.
The hornbeam is in the birch (betulaceae) family and grows to around 30 feet tall. They do well with sun or shade, and do prefer medium-moisture soil. In the shade, they have more of a sprawling, open shape, with a denser habit in full sun. They can survive drought and flooding. Since musclewood tolerates a variety of conditions, it is a great choice for urban areas and woodland or naturalized gardens.
Their leaves are alternate, simple, serrated and elliptical. Their color is purplish when new, then a nice dark green until fall, when they can turn red, orange and yellow. The hornbeam is considered monoecious, as they have both male and female flowers. This native tree can also be pruned as a hedge, but otherwise little pruning is required.
The hornbeam is a host to the eastern tiger swallowtail, the striped hairstreak, and the red-spotted purple. squirrels and birds eat the seeds and buds, while pheasants, ruffed grouse, bobwhite and turkeys need the catkins, seeds and buds for food.
The strong, good quality wood is used for flooring, golf clubs, tool handles, levers and bows. This wood rarely splits or cracks. Early Americans used the wood for dishes, bowls, stool handles, ox yokes and for fuel.
Read the article in the Coastal Point here.