Gerald L. Klingaman
CARPINUS caroliniana ssp. virginiana
Plant Common Name
This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.
A slow-growing, spreading-canopied deciduous tree, American hornbeam is native to southeastern North America and subspecies virginiana has a more northerly natural range. The ridged, gray, smooth bark looks like there are flexed muscles under it, yielding another common name of musclewood. It may also grow with many trunks and attain a form much more shrub-like, albeit large.
The pretty, oblong, tapered leaves have depressed veins and double-teeth on their edges. These leaves are slightly smaller, narrower and with less teeth than that of the primary species. In spring, male and female flowers appear separately on the same tree, but only the drooping females catkin blossoms are of interest. After being wind-pollinated, the catkins give way to winged clusters of green fruits that ripen to brown. In autumn, the leaves turn primarily shades of yellow, but it is common to have variable flushes of red and orange, too.
Grow American hornbeam in full to partial sun or even nearly full shade spots. It does best in deep, fertile acidic soils. Use it as a specimen shade or street tree, or as a screening hedge since it tolerates shearing well. It naturally grows as a mid-level understory tree in woodlands.
AHS Heat Zone
8 - 1
USDA Hardiness Zone
3 - 8
1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17
Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade
20'-40' / 6.1m - 12.2m
35'-50' / 10.7m - 15.2m
North America, United States, Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Central United States