Trees of Wisconsin

Carpinus caroliniana Walter
muscle-wood; blue-beach; hornbeam
Family: Betulaceae
tree branch bud male ament female ament fruit

The smooth gray bark over an irregularly ridged trunk suggests a muscled limb thereby providing the basis for one of its common names, "musclewood". The simple, alternate leaves are more or less doubly toothed, or at least the teeth are often of various sizes giving an irregular appearance. The leafy bract attached to the paired fruits is very distinctive and the winter buds tend to be four-angled in cross-section, with many brown, ciliate scales (a hand lens is helpful to see these characters). Carpinus caroliniana is sometimes considered to be a shrub, but the growth form is more often that of a small tree.

Some of the common names for this species are troublesome. It is not a Beech although the bark and leaves look somewhat like Beech. "Hornbeam" is too easily confused with "Hop Hornbeam", a name applied to Ostrya virginiana. Musclewood is probably the best choice, because there is no confusion with another species and the muscled appearance of the bark is unique.

Carpinus caroliniana is distributed throughout most of the eastern United States and throughout all of Wisconsin. It is often found near streams, but usually on banks or on terraces rather than in the wetter swamps.

known Wisconsin distribution


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