Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

American Hornbeam, Musclewood, Blue Beech, Ironwood

American Hornbeam, Musclewood, Blue Beech, Ironwood

Carpinus caroliniana

Sun to light shade; medium moisture level; prefers deep, rich loams, medium loams to fine sandy loams and silt loams; slightly acid to neutral pH.

25-40 feet height by 25-40 feet spread; yellow-tinged, reddish-purple catkins in late spring; fruits are small, seed-like nutlets enclosed by a veiny, irregular 3-lobed bract about 1 inch long and hang in clusters from June to October.

Growth Rate: Slow

Maintenance: Fertilize lightly in spring for first 3-4 years. Prune in fall or early winter when plant is young to create a single trunk for the first 16-24 inches above ground. Multi-trunked trees are less long-lived due to debris and water that accumulates in the crotches. Can suffer from leaf spots, cankers, twig blight and scale but none are serious.

Propagation: Seed germination code E. 60 days at 68-85 degrees F. followed by 60 days at 41 degrees F. Rooted cuttings are a slow and unreliable process.

Native Region: Statewide

One of our most ornamental small trees that looks good in winter and grows well in shady, damp locations. Multi-trunked in form with wide-spreading, low branches. Common name comes from the smooth, blue-gray bark and sinuous, rippled trunks that resemble muscled arms. Fall color can be outstanding, especially in the sun, with yellow, orange, scarlet and sometimes maroon leaves. Native to streambanks, floodplains, and bottomlands in rich woodlands so it performs best in deep, rich, moist, slightly acid soils. Often an understory plant in forests so does well in heavy shade. Cultivars available.

Leaves are butterfly larval food, including the White Admiral and Tiger Swallowtails. Nuts attract birds and mammals.

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