Wednesday, November 9, 2011


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.


  1. This summer I came to love Carcar---the nickname we gave to it because we had to abbreviate everything while we collected veg data. It is a beautiful tree!

  2. One of our favorites too. We have the tiniest little one (about 18 inches high) growing in our front yard. It was a free gift from an aboretum we belong to, as are many of our trees and shrubs. But our yard is extremely small. Who know what we'll do with it as it gets bigger?

    Those nutlets and bracts just cry out to be sketched.

  3. Wow - This is a great post and brought back a ton of memories for me. My Dad used to always point out hornbeam trees to me in our woods in the back of our house when was growing up. We spent a lot of time out there, cutting and splitting for winter firewood. He used to tell me they used hornbeam wood to make the pieces to hold oxen together (not sure what these wooden pieces were called) on the farm. He used to also tell me he'd never cut one down because it would likely ruin his chainsaw blade! Thanks for a good memory!


  4. Hi Karl -- what a nice story. I am so glad this post reminded you of a time with your Dad. Ironwood - strong as an ox!

  5. Hi Ken -- a sketch of this tree would be beautiful. I just love the flower-fruit structure.

    Hi Misti -- "Carcar" - another new name for my list of musclewood names. Thanks!