The American Hornbeam is a slow growing, deciduous, small-to-medium sized understory tree with an attractive round form. Being a native forest understory tree, it is useful for stady landscapes and naturalized or woodland gardens. It is native to the midwest where it is typically found in rich moist woods, valleys, ravine bottoms, and rocky slopes along streams. That said, this tree thrives where many others do not – in ‘partly shade’ and ‘mostly shade’ areas in your landscape. It should be noted that this tree can be planted in full sun as well – but due to the very hot Denver sun (as compared to the midwest) it may do best with some shade. This tree is highly adaptable which is why ArborAdvisor recommends this tree for areas with questionable or varying sunlight.
This tree typically grows to be 20 feet tall by 20 feet wide. The trunk is a unique smooth grey color and larger branches of a mature tree exhibit a distinctive muscle-like fluting that has given rise to another common name of “musclewood” for this tree. Flowers appear in spring in separate male and female catkins, with the female catkins giving way to distinctive clusters of winged nutlets. New leaves emerge reddish-purple in the spring, changing to dark green, then turn yellow to orange in the fall.
The extremely hard wood of the Hornbeam was once used by early Americans to make bowls, tool handles, and ox yokes. Commercial use of the hornbeam is not practicable, however, due to the limited amount of wood that can be harvested per tree.