Another day spent partially in the great outdoors, where I encountered another favorite tree! There are so many. Today it is musclewood, also known as American hornbeam, ironwood, blue beech, or Carpinus caroliniana. I prefer the name musclewood given its bluish-gray, smooth, and sinewy bark; it looks like rippling muscles.
Most of the year I notice the musclewood because of its bark. It grows in moist, fertile soils such as in wooded floodplains or rich uplands, preferring partial shade. This small tree thrives in the understory, beneath the canopy of other trees.
This fall, though, I've really taken notice of its attractive spreading branches and broad crown and flower structure. Paired flowers turn into small nutlets that are tucked into a leaf-like bract. These bracts are clustered on a long hanging stalk. Wow, that is such a technical description for something that is so much more beautiful. Have a look. The first three photos were taken in late September, the fourth photo was taken today.
Some forestry fact sheets describe musclewood as a "weed," given its "small size and poor form." I beg to differ. This graceful tree with its lantern-like fruit clusters reminds me of a Japanese garden, of peace and tranquility. It is one of my favorite trees.