American Hornbeam
Carpinus caroliniana Walt.

American Hornbeam: Full Size

Also known as Musclewood, Blue Beech, Water Beech, or Ironwood.

Mature Size: 20 to 30 feet in height and 8 to 12 inches in diameter.

Form: Small, bushy tree with a spreading top of slender, crooked or drooping branches.

Habitat: Rich soils on low slopes and along streams, ponds and lakes.


American Hornbeam: Leaves

Alternate, simple, 2 to 4 inches, oval, long-pointed, doubly toothed along the edges.


American Hornbeam: Flower

Males in slender, yellow-green 1 to 2 inch hanging catkins; females in fuzzy yellow-green ½ to ¾ inch catkins on new branch tips.


American Hornbeam: Fruit

4 to 6 inch hanging cluster of slightly folded, 1 inch, 3-lobed leafy bracts; each bract contains a 1/3 inch ribbed nutlet; nutlets fall with bracts attached, aiding their distribution by the wind.


American Hornbeam: Bark

Light brownish-gray to dark bluish-gray; trunk fluted, resembling rippling muscles.


Slender, somewhat zigzag, brown to gray; buds ¼ inch, brown, angled, with a tan silky edge to each scale (making the buds appear lined).

Values and Uses

Hornbeam wood is tough, closed-grained, heavy and strong. Although seldom harvested, it has been used for levers, tool handles, wooden cogs, mallets and wedges. The seeds are a valuable food source for gray squirrels and a variety of birds. It is also used by beavers for food and building material.

Did You Know?

One common name, musclewood, comes from the resemblance of its trunk to flexed, well-defined muscles.