American Hornbeam

Carpinus caroliniana Betulaceae

Other names

Blue Beech, Water Beech, Ironwood, Musclewood

Growth habit


Native distribution

Native to the Finger Lakes Region, Nova Scotia to MN, South to FL and TX


An adaptable 20-30' tall understory tree that ranges from 15-20' wide.
Light: full sun to full shade.
Moisture and Soil: moist to dry.


Seed Treatment and Storage: Store seeds dry then moist cold stratify for 30-60-90 days. Germinate at 70°F.

Biocultural value

The Chippewa reserved musclewood for the main posts supporting the ridgepole in tents. Medicinally, the tree was typically used in the form of a bark chip infusion as an antidiarrheal, urinary aid, tuberculosis remedy, and skin wash.

The statements above were sourced from:

Native American Ethnobotany Database: http://naeb.BRIT Native American Ethnobotany

Wildlife value

An assortment of insects feed on American hornbeam foliage, wood, and sap, including the caterpillars of the eyed Baileya moth (Baileya ophthalmica), woodboring beetles (Agrilus spp.), plant bugs (Lygocoris spp.), an aphid (Macrosiphum carpinicolens), and several leafhoppers (Eratoneura direpta, E. triangulata, and Erythridula modica). American hornbeam nutlets are eaten by several kinds of birds and squirells and are a preferred food source of the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus). Catkins, buds, twigs, and foliage are also consumed to a limited extent by browsers and gamebirds. Some bids use the tree as nesting habitat, either building among its branches (e.g. the wood thrush) or taking up residence in small cavities of older trees (e.g. chickadees).


Urban Tree Collection, Houston and Grossman Ponds, Newman Meadow, Bioswale Garden, Mundy Wildflower Garden, Bald Hill and Caroline Pinnacles, Purvis Road Wetlands Natural Area, Tarr-Young Preserve

Source of plant

Edgewood Nursery, Bailey Nurseries, Klyn Nurseries, Princeton Nurseries, Schichtel's Nursery, Woodlanders Inc., Eastern Plant Specialists, Forestfarm Nursery, Arborvillage Farm Nursery, Daniel Otis, F. Robert Wesley, Ruth Nix


Small, multi-stemmed bushy shrub or single-stemmed tree with a wide-spreading, flat or round-topped, often irregular crown; some plants are quite uniform. Plants 20' to 30' tall. Fall color variable, ranging from a good yellow to orange-red. Bark slate gray, smooth, irregularly fluted.

USDA Hardiness Zone


Special characteristics

bark, winter interest