Trees of Iowa: An Interactive Key

Tree of the Month

American Hornbeam
(Carpinus caroliniana)

Leaves are alternate, simple, double-toothed with equal leafbase.

click on a county

Iowa County Poweshiek County Jasper County Polk County Dallas County Guthrie County Audubon County Marshall County Story County Boone County Greene County Carroll County Washington County Keokuk County Mahaska County Marion County Warren County Madison County Louisa County Muscatine County Adair County Shelby County Crawford County Tama County Benton County Linn County Des Moines County Henry County Jefferson County Wapello County Monroe County Lucas County Clarke County Union County Cass County Adams County Montgomery County Mills County East Pottawattamie County West Pottawattamie County Harrison County Monona County Cedar County Jones County Lee County Van Buren County Davis County Appanoose County Wayne County Decatur County Ringgold County Taylor County Page County Fremont County Scott County Clinton County Jackson County Dubuque County Delaware County Buchanan County Black Hawk County Grundy County Hardin County Hamilton County Webster County Calhoun County Sac County Ida County Woodbury County Clayton County Bremer County Fayette County Chickasaw County Butler County Franklin County Wright County Humboldt County Pocahontas County Buena Vista County Cherokee County Plymouth County Floyd County Cerro Gordo County Hancock County Palo Alto County Clay County O'Brien County Sioux County Allamakee County Winneshiek County Howard County Mitchell County Worth County Winnebago County Kossuth County Emmet County Dickinson County Osceola County Lyon County

Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) is an attractive small tree that is common, but not abundant in its natural range.  It has many common names, the most common include:  Bluebeech because of its very smooth gray bark, and musclewood referring to its muscle-like branches which are irregularly fluted.

Hornbeam has alternate simple leaves, with fine teeth and tapering to a sharp point.  Winter twigs are very fine reddish brown in color with three bundle scars.  It is a member of the birch family and will have the male catkin flower buds present in the winter months.  The fruit is a small nut about 1/3” in diameter, lying at the base of 3-lobed leafy bract; the fruits are clustered on a hanging stalk.  The bark is thin, slate gray to light gray in color and very tight, seldom forming any ridges or breaking into plates.   

American Hornbeam LeafAmerican Hornbeam Fruit

It is native to the eastern third of Iowa and can also be found growing up the Iowa and Des Moines rivers.  It is a common, but not abundant tree, often growing in multiple stem clumps.  Like ironwood, it is very shade tolerant and thrives in the understory of our upland oak-hickory woodlands.  It prefers a moister site than Ironwood and will often be located on north and east slopes or on the upper stream terraces. 

American Hornbeam FruitAmerican Hornbeam Flower

It is a small tree, seldom reaching a foot in diameter or more than 30 feet tall.   The wood is very tough with exceptional strength characteristics and has been used for tool handles and other minor uses requiring tough wood.  Because it is such a small tree, its commercial value for lumber is almost non existent.  It does have high density and makes excellent firewood. 

It has great potential as an ornamental tree, because of its gray fluted stems and good reddish-orange fall color.  It is somewhat difficult to transplant and does best in a moist, sheltered location of the landscape and will tolerate some shading.


Click on a thumbnail image below to view a larger picture.
American Hornbeam Leaf American Hornbeam Fruit American Hornbeam Fruit American Hornbeam Flower American Hornbeam Bark American Hornbeam Leaves American Hornbeam Bark