The genus Carpinus has 30 to 40 species found in northern temperate regions, with the majority in east Asia, two in Europe, and only one in eastern North America. This one is known locally as Ironwood, or Blue beech and, elsewhere, as American hornbeam, all names for Carpinus caroliniana. This is an elegant small tree native from southern Ontario east to Maine, south to Louisiana and northern Florida.

Trees like Ironwood are so often overlooked in home landscaping because they apparently lack the dazzle of trees with bloom or fruit. But this tree proves that less is more. It's a small tree reaching heights of only 20 to 30 feet with a similar spread. The trunk is often fluted, smooth and greyish-green. The pretty leaves open chartreuse in spring and filter light into a golden shade that is one of this tree’s most subtle yet attractive attributes. The autumn color is a subtle orange to yellow and, as the leaves are small, there is rarely much litter in winter. The male and female catkins appear in spring at the same time as the leaves and the fruit is a small papery nutlet that hangs at branch tips and flutters prettily in the lightest breeze.

It grows slowly and is a size that is easily accommodated in any garden. It would make an excellent courtyard specimen and is perfect to shade a garden bench. Its rounded form and sculptural trunk would create a contemplative atmosphere by its simple beauty.

It will grow in partial shade with an attractive open habit and will thrive in full sun with a denser growth. It can tolerate partial inundation but is intolerant of drought and alkaline soils.

American hornbeam thrives across most of the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It may be hard to find though as it is not likely to be found in discount plant nurseries.

Trees with similar qualities would include the European hornbeam, Carpinus betulus; the Japanese loose-flowered hornbeam, Carpinus laxiflora; the American hop-hornbeam, Ostrya virginiana; and the Japanese hop-hornbeam, Ostrya japonica.



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