American Hornbeam

Hornbeam leafy branch


The American hornbeam is also known as “musclewood” because its bark has taut, shallow fissures that mimic the texture of muscle. As stout as its nickname implies, the hornbeam is able to survive in plenty of shade, which makes it a great addition to shady areas that other trees would struggle with.

This tree is eligible for a $50 Tree Rebate. If you’d like help with the planting, check out our RiverSmart Homes program.

More detail: American Hornbeam’s Tree of the Month.

Common Name
American hornbeam

Latin Name
Carpinus caroliniana

Alternate, 3–12 cm long, with prominent veins giving a distinctive corrugated texture, and a serrated margin

Flowers are on small greenish catkins, about one and a half inches long

Small, oval-shaped, hairy, and green fruits hang in clusters from a shared stalk

Brown-colored and slender with alternating leaves

Smooth and greenish-grey, becoming shallowly fissured in old trees

Broad base, becoming round at the top

20 to 40 feet

Native Range
Native to eastern North America, from Minnesota and southern Ontario east to Maine, and south to eastern Texas and northern Florida. It also grows in Canada (southwest Quebec and southeast Ontario).

Small deciduous tree

Seasonal Colors
Turns to bright orange and red on the fall

Grows in moist to wet soils and commonly occurs in swamps, along streams, and in wet bottomlands

Prefers shade to partial shade

Similar Species
European hornbeam, Oriental hornbeam, Japanese hornbeam

Pests and Diseases
The American hornbeam is generally resistant to pests and diseases.

Rebate Eligibility

Of Note
Hornbeams yield a very hard timber that give it the alternate name “ironwood.”

American hornbeam is an important food of gray squirrels in southern bottom-land hardwoods.

Photo Credits

Richard Webb
Flatbush Gardener