Consider a Hornbeam

Consider a Hornbeam | Piedmont Master Gardeners

Consider a Hornbeam

Hornbeams are hardwood timber within the household Betulaceae (birch) and the flowering plant genus Carpinus. The 30–40 species of hornbeam happen throughout a lot of the temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with the best variety of species in East Asia, significantly China. Just one species is native to japanese North America, and two species are native to Europe. This text will deal with the native American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, and on the European species, widespread hornbeam, Carpinus betulus. A 3rd native tree, American hop hornbeam, Ostrya virginiana, will even be described. It too is a member of the Betulaceae household, belonging to the genus Ostrya, a genus of eight to 10 small deciduous timber.

The American hop hornbeam is commonly confused with the American hornbeam. Each timber are generally referred to as ironwood. Each are understory timber and might develop in shade to partial-shade, share an analogous leaf form, are recognized for having very laborious wooden, distinctive bark, showy catkins, and yellow-to-orange-to-red fall leaf coloration. The American hornbeam can tolerate moist circumstances, prefers shade (though it will possibly develop in solar), and is much less drought tolerant; the American hop hornbeam is extra drought tolerant, can not tolerate flooding circumstances, and might develop in sunnier websites.

The European hornbeam, significantly the cultivar ‘Fastigiata’, is commonly present in U.S landscapes. It may be used as a tree, or hard-pruned right into a hedge. It shares comparable traits with the American hornbeam and the American hop hornbeam, equivalent to leaf form, very laborious wooden, distinctive trunk, and showy catkins. Nonetheless, the European hornbeam is bigger at maturity than both of the native species. Though it will possibly develop in partial shade, it likes full solar and is reasonably drought tolerant.

Earlier than I talk about the hornbeams in additional element, I’ll tackle the advantages of planting a native tree when web site circumstances are favorable, and when the native tree satisfies planting targets.


Let’s assume we’ve determined so as to add a tree to our panorama, and we be ok with doing one thing that’s helpful for the setting and for posterity. We’ve heard about the advantages of planting native timber. Don’t all timber provide some advantages and serve completely different functions? Maybe we could merely want the decorative enchantment of a nonnative tree.

The panorama can maintain many various kinds of crops, but it surely’s vital to concentrate on the actual advantages of native timber in order that, if we’ve an acceptable location and planting goal, we’d purposefully choose a local tree. Doug Tallamy, writer of Bringing Nature Residence, describes native timber as an vital pillar within the interactive meals net, a meals net of native crops and native bugs that helps wildlife and finally, helps us. As a result of crops and bugs in a selected area have developed collectively, native bugs look to these crops for meals. When native crops are changed with nonnative crops, bugs don’t have meals and birds can’t feed their younger. Wildlife is disadvantaged of native plant meals sources, bugs, and birds.

There may be a powerful chart within the Tallamy e book (p. 147) that lists the highest 20 native timber and woody crops that assist Lepidoptera species (moths and butterflies). Lepidoptera caterpillars are an vital meals supply for birds feeding their younger. Hornbeams, the main target of this text, aren’t included on this high 20 record, however they’re however an vital native meals supply. Carpinus caroliniana is included on Tallamy’s record of Native Vegetation with Wildlife Worth and Fascinating Landscaping Attributes for the Mid-Atlantic and Center States (p. 294).



Native to the japanese half of the US, the American hornbeam is often present in wooded areas as an understory tree in USDA hardiness zones 3-9. It prefers deep, fertile, moist, acidic soil and grows finest in partial shade, however will develop in full solar. It doesn’t do effectively in compacted soil. It’s sometimes discovered alongside streams, river banks, flood plains and bottomland, and is planted in landscapes and in naturalized areas. It grows with a horny open behavior in complete shade, however turns into dense in full solar.

American hornbeam Picture: Daderot, personal work, Wikimedia Commons

As famous in TreeBaltimore, Dr. Michael A. Dirr, skilled on woody crops and professor of horticulture on the College of Georgia, says this concerning the American hornbeam:

“I’ve noticed this species in lots of panorama conditions and consider it’s rather more adaptable than ever given credit score. It performs effectively even in areas inundated with water for a number of days to every week or two as soon as it’s established. Though reasonably drought-tolerant, it’s in all probability finest to offer even established timber with some irrigation throughout dry spells within the south.”

Its chief liabilities in cultivation are a comparatively gradual development charge and problem in transplantation attributable to its deep, spreading, lateral roots. American hornbeam is harder to transplant than European hornbeam.


American hornbeam Picture: treegrow, Artistic Commons

Its widespread identify, musclewood, comes from its engaging blue-gray bark, fluted with lengthy, sinewy ridges. The extraordinarily laborious wooden of this tree conjures up one other widespread identify, ironwood (a reputation shared with the American hop hornbeam). Because the identify suggests, the wooden will take a horn-like polish and was as soon as utilized by early Individuals to make bowls, device handles, and ox yokes. Industrial use of hornbeam wooden shouldn’t be practicable, nevertheless, because of the restricted quantity of wooden that may be harvested per tree.

The American hornbeam could be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub or as a single-stemmed tree. It’s extra slender and upright than the European hornbeam. The American hornbeam grows slowly, about 12” per yr, reaching a median peak and unfold of 20-30′ over a life span of 50-150 years. The biggest American hornbeam on document for the Southeast is 75 ft!

American Hornbeam Picture: wlcutler, Artistic Commons

The leaves are deciduous, alternate, and easy with a pointy, doubly-serrated margin with bigger tooth on the ends of veins. Leaves sometimes range from 1-4” in size. Fall coloration could be stunning, with yellows, oranges and reds. Though deciduous, hornbeams and hop hornbeams preserve their dried leaves in winter. Marcescence is the technical time period for plant elements that wither however don’t fall off. It may possibly check with leaves, flowers, or fruit. The marcescent leaves of the American and European hornbeams, and the American hop hornbeam, present a protected and safe habitat for backyard wildlife through the chilly season.



The hornbeam is monoecious: A plant or plant species producing female and male reproductive buildings on the identical plant however on separate flowers. Female and male flowers seem in spring on separate catkins (slim cylindrical flower clusters). The flowers are wind pollinated. The feminine catkins are about 4 inches in size, a bit longer than male counterparts, giving technique to distinctive clusters of winged nutlets (fruit). Sometimes, there are 10–30 seeds are on every seed catkin. Maturing in October, the nutlet is held in a bract (a modified or specialised leaf) on the finish of a stalk, offering forage for track birds and small mammals. In fall, the bracts change from gentle inexperienced to yellow. Though seeds are dispersed by wind, they’re primarily dispersed by birds.

The minimal seed-bearing age of American hornbeam is 15 years. Seed manufacturing is best at 25 to 50 years and doubtless ceases at about 75 years.


Seeds, buds, and catkins are eaten by plenty of songbirds, ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasants, bobwhite, turkey, fox, and grey squirrels. Cottontails, beaver, and white-tailed deer eat the leaves, twigs, and bigger stems. American hornbeam is closely utilized by beaver, as a result of the tree is available in typical beaver habitat.

Io Moth Picture: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClaren, Artistic Commons

A mess of insect species make the most of the American hornbeam as a larval meals supply. In keeping with the Native Plant Finder, for the Charlottesville zip code 22901 the American hornbeam is a number plant for 72 species of butterflies and moths, together with the Io moth,  japanese tiger swallowtail, walnut sphinx, luna moth, and polyphemus moth, to call a number of. This database, based mostly on the work of Doug Tallamy and sponsored by the Nationwide Wildlife Federation, will present caterpillar host plant info on particular native crops in response to zip codes!


The American hornbeam displays no severe insect or illness issues. It reveals resistance to verticillium wilt. Leaf spots, cankers, and twig blight are occasional illness issues. It might be prone to scales.



European hornbeam Picture: flora.cyclam, Artistic Commons

The European hornbeam is native to Western Asia and central, japanese, and southern Europe, together with southern England. It grows in USDA hardiness zones 4-8. It requires a heat local weather for good development, and happens solely at elevations as much as about 2,000 ft. It may possibly develop in full solar to partial shade, in moist soil, both loamy or clay, and might tolerate extremely acidic to impartial soil pH. The European hornbeam is extra tolerant of drought than is the American hornbeam.



European hornbeam Picture: wlcutler, Artistic Commons

Just like the American hornbeam, trunks have clean grey bark and distinctive muscle-like fluting. Hornbeam wooden is the toughest of any European timber. This deciduous, medium-sized tree matures to 40-60’ tall and 30-40’ broad at a development charge of about 12-24” per yr. When younger, its form is considerably pyramidal or oval, turning into broader and rounder because the tree matures. It wants little pruning when grown as a tree, however responds effectively to laborious pruning if grown as a hedge. Its common life span is 50-150 years.

These days, the wooden is especially used for furnishings, flooring, and wooden turning, however historically the wooden was made into ox yokes. The Romans made chariots from hornbeam due to the power of the wooden. A tonic created from hornbeam was stated to alleviate tiredness and exhaustion, and its leaves have been used to cease bleeding and to heal wounds.

Leaves are easy, alternate, rectangular, and doubly serrated, with outstanding veins. Leaf size is 2-5”; leaf coloration is darkish inexperienced altering to a horny yellow to orange in fall. Foliage is usually dense and turns into denser with extra solar. The bark and buds are decorative in winter.


The tree is monoecious, as described within the part on the American hornbeam. The European hornbeam additionally varieties female and male catkins in early spring, with feminine catkins being considerably longer than the male and greenish in coloration; male catkins are yellowish. The feminine catkins type small, brown, winged nutlets (fruit) held in a bract. The nutlets mature in October. Bracts change from gentle inexperienced to yellow in fall.


Frequent hornbeam is the meals plant for caterpillars of many moth species, together with the nut tree tussock and the case-bearer moth. Finches, chickadees, and small mammals eat the seeds in autumn.


European hornbeam is essentially proof against pest and illnesses, together with verticillium wilt (fungal illness). It might be prone to armillaria (parasitic fungi), root rot, and scales (bugs).


Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’ Picture: Andrew Grey, personal work, Wikimedia Commons

The cultivar ‘Fastigiata’ is rather more widespread in commerce than is the species. Generally referred to as Upright European hornbeam, it shows a slender, fastigiate type (branches sloping upward) in youth, however steadily acquires a tear drop or oval-vase form with age, sometimes maturing to 40’ tall and 30’ broad. Ovate, toothed, vibrant medium inexperienced leaves (to 4” lengthy) are clear and engaging all through the rising season with little susceptibility to foliar illnesses. Foliage turns yellow-orange in fall. Trunks have clean grey bark and distinctive muscle-like fluting.


As a member of the birch household, Betulaceae, the American hop hornbeam is said to the alders, birches, hornbeams, and filberts. It’s generally referred to as ironwood, a reputation shared with plenty of different crops, together with the American hornbeam.


Native to japanese North America and Mexico, the American hop hornbeam grows in USDA hardiness zones 3-9.  Applicable for shady places, it additionally does effectively in solar the place it develops a broader crown. It prefers moist, well-drained soil, and is tolerant of each acidic and alkaline soils. It may possibly develop in clay, loam, or sand. Though it will possibly tolerate drought, it won’t tolerate flooding. It may possibly tolerate dry, gravelly soils in partial shade as soon as established. The tree is tough to transplant and is gradual to ascertain.


American hop hornbeam Picture: David Stang, Artistic Commons

The hop hornbeam is a small- to medium-sized understory tree with a typically rounded crown. The tree matures to a peak of 25-45’ and a width of 15-40’. It grows about 24” yearly, and lives a median 50-150 years. Its darkish, yellowish-green leaves (to five” lengthy) are alternate, elliptical, and doubly serrated, with outstanding veins. The lateral leaf veins of Ostrya are forked, whereas these of Carpinus are parallel and infrequently forked. Leaves, which flip yellow to red-orange  in autumn, really feel like felt. Leaf measurement shouldn’t be uniform, with these close to the ends of shaded branches reaching as much as 6″ in size; leaves increased within the crown or farther again on the branches are a lot smaller.

Maturing American hop hornbeam Picture: Ohio Dept. of Pure Sources, Div. of Forestry

Usually confused with American hornbeam, the bark affords a degree of differentiation. The sleek sinewy blue-gray trunk of American hornbeam simply contrasts with the shreddy, brownish, grooved bark of the American hop hornbeam. Because the American hop hornbeam matures, the shreddy bark develops into skinny vertical strips, solely barely shredding on the ends. Each younger and aged bark are gray-brown in coloration.

The wooden of hop hornbeam is tough and sturdy. It was as soon as used for runners on sleighs. The bark and internal wooden was used to deal with toothache, sore muscular tissues, coughs, and lots of different illnesses by Native Individuals.


American hop hornbeam Picture: Plant Picture Library, Artistic Commons

Flowers are monoecious (reddish-brown male flowers and greenish feminine flowers seem in separate catkins on the identical tree). Flowers aren’t significantly showy, though the male catkins are extra outstanding and are current all through winter. Feminine catkins are adopted by drooping clusters of sac-like, seed-bearing pods which, because the widespread identify suggests, resemble the true hops which are used within the manufacturing of beer. The massive photograph on the high of the article reveals very showy catkins of the American hop hornbeam.





A number of vertebrate animals depend on hop hornbeam as a supply of meals. These species embrace the ruffed grouse (buds, catkins), downy woodpecker (seeds), and purple finch (seeds). Amongst mammals, the fox squirrel, purple squirrel, woodland deer mouse, and white-footed mouse eat the seeds and buds, whereas the white-tailed deer browses sparingly on the twigs and leaves. The caterpillars of a number of moth species feed on the foliage of hop hornbeam, together with ironwood tubemaker moth and ironwood leafminer. Many different moth species are listed within the Moth Desk. There have been zero ends in the Native Plant Finder in response to zip codes 22901 and 22903. (Database outcomes are based mostly on native crops that have been traditionally current in a county based mostly on vary maps. Particular zip codes could not maintain a selected native plant.)


The tree is proof against many illness and bug issues, though it’s prone to the gypsy moth. Within the woods, it is likely one of the first timber to be defoliated by that pest. When underneath stress, the tree can also be prone to the chestnut borer. It’s proof against wind, ice, and most stresses of city dwelling, though it’s notoriously delicate to salt.


Returning as soon as once more to Bringing Nature Residence (within the Afterward), Doug Tallamy calls upon us to make our communities and our personal landscapes into areas he calls, The Final Refuge, a spot populated with the crops and animals that developed there. So though we could not select to completely plant native timber, their inclusion in our landscapes is a vital step in strengthening, and even reclaiming, biodiversity. To that finish, the American hornbeam and the American hop hornbeam are much less acquainted native timber that is likely to be nice additions to your panorama. If you’re interested by a bigger tree, or in a tree that may be pruned right into a hedge, you may contemplate the European hornbeam. Consider your panorama for solar, moisture, and soil kind. Take into account your tree choices for form, measurement, and fall coloration. Decide your targets for planting a tree. If you’re prepared to decide on, maybe it’s best to attempt one thing new–contemplate a hornbeam!


Bringing Nature Residence (Tallamy, Douglas W., 2007)

Native Plant Finder, Nationwide Wildlife Federation,

American hornbeam, The Morton Arboretum,

“American Hornbeams Present the Upsides to Planting Native Bushes, Omaha World Herald,

“Tree of the Season: American Hornbeam,” TreeBaltimore*, *Baltimore’s program for the coordination of all tree plantings by metropolis companies, non‑revenue organizations, neighborhoods, and group associations.

”The Sinewy American Hornbeam,” In Protection of Vegetation,

Carpinus caroliniana, Missouri Botanical Backyard Plant Finder,

College of Connecticut Plant Database,

Carpinus caroliniana, USDA FEIS (Hearth Results Data System, Index of Species Data

Plant Database, Woman Hen Johnson Wildflower Heart, result.php?id_plant=OSVI

American Hornbeam, College of Kentucky,

Musclewood or Ironwood, Ewell A. Stowell Arboretum, Whitehouse Nature Heart, Albion School,

SelecTree: Tree Element, European Hornbeam, Calpoly Institute, City Forest Ecosystems Institute,

Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus, Woodland Belief,

Plant Profiles, Chicago Botanic Backyard,

American Hop Hornbeam, Ostrya virginiana, Ohio Division of Pure Sources Division of Forestry,

Hop Hornbeam, Illinois Wildflowers,

Featured Picture, Ostrya virginiana catkins, Katja Schultz from Washington, DC, Nationwide Botanic Backyard, Washington, DC, Artistic Commons





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