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NC Native Plant Society:
Plant Details

Carpinus caroliniana

American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood, Blue Beech

Scientific Name:

Carpinus caroliniana

Genus:

Carpinus

Species Epithet:

caroliniana

Common Name:

American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood, Blue Beech

Plant Type

Tree

Life Cycle

Perennial

Plant Family

Betulaceae (Birch Family)

Native/Alien:

NC Native

Invasive Status:

(*Key)

Size:

12-36 ft.

Bloom Color(s):

Red, Green

Light:

Part Shade - 2 to 6 hours of sun per day, Less than 2 hours of sun per day

Soil Moisture:

Moist

Bloom Time:

March, April

Growing Area:

Mountains, Piedmont, Sandhills, Coastal Plain

Habitat Description:

Var. caroliniana (Coastal American Hornbeam): Streambanks, riverbanks, bottomland forests, lower slopes, maritime forests. Uncommon in NC piedmont, common in coastal plain.
Var. virginiana (Inland American Hornbeam): Rich cove forests, streambanks, riverbanks, bottomland forests, lower slopes. Common in NC mountains and piedmont.

Leaf Arrangement:

Alternate

Leaf Retention:

Deciduous

Leaf Type:

Leaves veined, not needle-like or scale-like

Leaf Form:

Simple

Life Cycle:

Perennial

Wildlife Value:

Important for Wildlife

Landscape Value:

Suitable for home landscapes

State Rank:

S5: Secure (*Key)

Global Rank:

G5 - Secure (*Key)

Notes:

2 varieties in NC. Beautiful trunk shape.

American Hornbeam is often called musclewood or blue beech because of its smooth, sinewy bark. It is also called musclewood; wood of American Hornbeam is hard and strong, used for tool handles, mallets, and heads of golf clubs.

The Scientific Name is Carpinus caroliniana. You will likely hear them called American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood, Blue Beech. This picture shows the American Hornbeam is often called musclewood or blue beech because of its smooth, sinewy bark.  It is also called musclewood; wood of American Hornbeam is hard and strong, used for tool handles, mallets, and heads of golf clubs.
  of Carpinus caroliniana

Will Stuart

Male catkins emerge in mid-March before the tree leafs out.

The Scientific Name is Carpinus caroliniana. You will likely hear them called American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood, Blue Beech. This picture shows the Male catkins emerge in mid-March before the tree leafs out. of Carpinus caroliniana

Will Stuart

Female catkins are much smaller with emerging bright red pistils.

Leaves are elliptical to ovate, doubly serrate.

The Scientific Name is Carpinus caroliniana. You will likely hear them called American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood, Blue Beech. This picture shows the Female catkins are much smaller with emerging bright red pistils.  of Carpinus caroliniana

Will Stuart

A well-maintained grouping of Carpinus caroliniana at the North Carolina Arboretum.

The Scientific Name is Carpinus caroliniana. You will likely hear them called American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood, Blue Beech. This picture shows the A well-maintained grouping of Carpinus caroliniana at the North Carolina Arboretum. of Carpinus caroliniana

Will Stuart

Colorful new Spring leaves

Garden in Orange County, NC

The Scientific Name is Carpinus caroliniana. You will likely hear them called American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood, Blue Beech. This picture shows the Colorful new Spring leaves of Carpinus caroliniana

Bettina Darveaux

Growing near water's edge

Macon County, NC

The Scientific Name is Carpinus caroliniana. You will likely hear them called American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood, Blue Beech. This picture shows the Growing near water's edge of Carpinus caroliniana

Bettina Darveaux

The fruit is a dangling cluster of several green and leafy bracts each enclosing a small nut.

Orange County, NC

The Scientific Name is Carpinus caroliniana. You will likely hear them called American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood, Blue Beech. This picture shows the The fruit is a dangling cluster of several green and leafy bracts each enclosing a small nut.
 of Carpinus caroliniana

Bettina Darveaux

Links:

USDA PLANTS Database Record

Vascular Plants of NC: https://auth1.dpr.ncparks.gov/flora/species_account.php

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/carpinus-caroliniana/

Native Plant Trust’s Go Botany: https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/carpinus/caroliniana/

https://nc.audubon.org/700



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