Hornbeam Tree

Hornbeam Tree – Carpinus caroliniana

The hornbeam tree, also known as the American hornbeam, is a popular landscaping tree that attracts birds and other wildlife throughout the year. The hornbeam has a compact shape with a thin trunk and a full, round canopy. The tree reaches heights of 20 to 40 feet wide with a canopy that is 20 to 30 feet wide. This tree grows in Hardiness Zones 3 through 9.

Often used in landscaping, the hornbeam is suitable for shading small lawns and as an understory element in shaded areas. The tree has a slow growth rate of approximately 1 foot per year. As an ornamental, the hornbeam offers extravagant foliage in both spring and autumn. In spring, crimson leaflets turn green, and the green leaves become deep red, orange or yellow in autumn. The flowers are catkins, and female hornbeam trees produce winged seeds throughout the spring months.

Hornbeam trees are low-maintenance trees that grow well in full sun, full shade and partially shaded locations. The trees prefer slightly acidic, moist soil that is rich in organic matter, but can also tolerate wet soil. The trees are generally resistant to pests and disease, and hornbeams tolerate hot weather and flooded conditions. To successfully transplant the tree, wrap the root ball in burlap before planting it in spring.

The hornbeam tree has a smooth grey trunk that is corded like muscles, resulting in the common name of musclewood. The simple, alternate leaves are dark green with serrated leaf margins and an elliptic or oval shape. The pinnate leaves grow from two to five inches long.

As the tree ages, it develops multiple trunks for an ornamental addition to winter landscapes. Alternately, the tree can be trimmed to a central stem to produce a single trunk that has layers of foliage. Known as the ironwood tree, mature hornbeams have drooping branches that resist breakage.