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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Hornbeam


(Carpinus caroliniana Walt.)

  Hornbearn also is called ironwood, blue beech and, occasionally, water beech or muscle wood. It is a small, slow-growing, bushy tree with a spreading top of slender, crooked or drooping branches. It is found along streams and in low ground throughout the state. It usually is 20 to 30 feet tall and 8 to 12 inches in diameter, although it sometimes grows larger. The trunk is fluted, with irregular ridges extending up and down the tree; hence, the "muscle wood" name.

The bark is light brownish-gray to dark bluish-gray, and sometimes marked with dark bands extending horizontally on the trunk.

The leaves are simple, alternate, oval, long-pointed, doubly toothed along the margin and 2 to 3 inches in length. They resemble black or sweet birch leaves but are smaller. The flowers are attached separately on the same tree in scaly, bracted spikes called catkins. The male catkin is about 11/2 inches long; the female about three fourths of an inch, with small, leaf-like, three-lobed green scales.

The fruit is a nutlet about 1/3 inch long, and is a very good food source for a variety of wildlife. It falls attached to a leaf-like scale, which acts as a wing to aid its distribution by the wind.

Hornbeam wood is tough, closed-grained, heavy and strong. It sometimes is used for levers, tool handles, wooden cogs, mallets and wedges.
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