American Hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana A Small Tree that’s as Tough as Nails

American Hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana: 

Other names: Blue Beech, Muscle Wood, Ironwood

Wetland indicator status: FAC

American Hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana

American Hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana

American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) is a pretty neat small tree found in the understory of swamps and moist woods.  The name muscle wood comes from the wavy wood, found under its smooth bark.  The wood is very hard and dense which gives it one of its common names, Ironwood.  Most often I think of Hop-Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) as Ironwood though.  It feels like a rock when you knock on this tree.  The name Blue Beech comes from its smooth beech-like bark, but American Hornbeam is not closely related to beeches.

American Hornbeam is very tolerant of shade, which suits its understory lifestyle just fine.  It is said to make a good tree for the yard, but is seldom planted.


Human Use

Small trees are not much used anymore and are often considered weeds, and are cut and discarded.  That’s too bad because most trees have wood suited to particular uses, not to mention their place in forest ecosystems.  In the case of American Hornbeam, the dense wood is most often used for tool handles and wedges.  The Iroquois used trunks as the main supports in wigwams and tents, and bark for medicine.

Musslewood bark

The wavy trunk of Carpinus caroliniana, gives it one or its names; musslewood.