American Hornbeam (Musclewood)

A closeup of the hornbeam's "muscular" trunk.

American Hornbeam (Musclewood) Deciduous

Carpinus caroliniana

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.

Map with pinpoint icon

Where To Grow

American hornbeam is planted in landscapes and naturalized areas. It prefers deep, fertile, moist, acidic soil and grows best in partial shade, but will grow in full sun. It is best suited to establishment in bottomlands that have already been stabilized by pioneer species. 
state outline
Suitable to plant east of the 100th meridian.
Tape Measure Icon

Size at Maturity

Tree Height Tree Spread
10-20' 10-20'
Water icon

Tree Characteristics

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.

Birdhouse icon

Wildlife Benefits

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.

Hands with plant icon

Additional Considerations

In the landscape, hornbeam often becomes a low-branched, multi-trunked small tree that is often wider than it is tall.

Firewood Icon

Interesting Facts

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.

Additional Images (click to enlarge)