American Hornbeam (Musclewood)
American Hornbeam (Musclewood) Deciduous
American hornbeam, also known as musclewood or blue beech, is a small, slow-growing understory tree native to hardwood forests of the eastern US and Canada.
Where To Grow
Size at Maturity
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The tree is perhaps best known for its smooth and sinewy steel-gray bark and the muscle-like look of its maturing trunk and larger branches (thus one of its common names). Hornbeam’s dark-green leaves are coarsely serrated and often turn shades of yellow, orange and red in the fall. Its catkin flowers give the tree away as a member of the birch family. The female flowers give way to distinctive clusters of winged seeds that somewhat resemble the hops-like seeds of ironwood.
Seeds, buds, or catkins are eaten by a number of songbirds, ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasants, bobwhite, turkey, fox, and gray squirrels. Cottontails, beaver, and white-tailed deer eat the leaves, twigs, and larger stems. Beaver heavily uses American hornbeam, because it is readily available in typical beaver habitat.
In the landscape, hornbeam often becomes a low-branched, multi-trunked small tree that is often wider than it is tall.
The name hornbeam derives from its extremely hard wood that takes a “horn-like” polish and was once used by early Americans to make bowls, ox yokes and tool handles. The “beam” in hornbeam refers to the beam of wood that separated the oxbows.