University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #ENH279

Carpinus caroliniana: American Hornbeam1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2


A handsome tree in many locations, the tree slowly reaches a height and spread of 20 to 30 feet. It will grow with an attractive open habit in total shade, but be dense in full sun. The muscle-like bark is smooth, gray, and fluted. Ironwood has a slow growth rate and is reportedly difficult to transplant from a field nursery (although 10-inch-diameter trees were moved with a 90-inch tree spade during the winter in USDA hardiness zone 8b with no problem) but is easy from containers. The fall color is faintly orange to yellow and stands out in the landscape or woods in the fall. Brown leaves occasionally hang on the tree into the winter.

Figure 1. 

Young Carpinus caroliniana: American Hornbeam


Ed Gilman

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Carpinus caroliniana
Pronunciation: kar-PYE-nus kair-oh-lin-ee-AY-nuh
Common name(s): American Hornbeam, Blue-Beech, Ironwood
Family: Betulaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 3A through 9A (Fig. 2)
Origin: native to North America
Invasive potential: little invasive potential

Uses: sidewalk cutout (tree pit); deck or patio; specimen; street without sidewalk; screen; hedge; tree lawn 3–4 feet wide; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft. wide; Bonsai; shade

Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree

Figure 2. 


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Height: 20 to 30 feet
Spread: 20 to 30 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: oval
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: slow
Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: double serrate
Leaf shape: ovate, oblong
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: red, yellow, orange
Fall characteristic: showy

Figure 3. 


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Flower color: orange, yellow
Flower characteristics: not showy


Fruit shape: elongated, oval
Fruit length: .5 to 1 inch
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: brown
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; showy; typically multi-trunked; thorns
Pruning requirement: little required
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: reddish, brown
Current year twig thickness: thin
Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun, partial sun or partial shade, shade tolerant
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; slightly alkaline; occasionally wet; well-drained
Drought tolerance: moderate
Aerosol salt tolerance: none


Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: yes
Outstanding tree: yes
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: resistant
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

With age, a multiple-trunked, low-branching specimen can be very attractive, showing off the bark and trunk form particularly well when lit at night. Tolerant of pruning, the tree can be used as a hedge plant or lends itself well for use as a screen due to the densely foliated crown. It can also be trained for street tree use by pruning to one central leader with small-diameter horizontal branches forming "layers" of foliage in the crown. Some nurseries offer single-stemmed specimens. Well-suited for small spaces in the shade or sun, ironwood is tolerant of occasional flooding. The wood is very hard and strong and makes a great tree for climbing, if allowed to grow with low branches intact. The wood dulls woodworking tools quickly. Nutlets and buds are eaten by many birds and squirrels. If transplanting from the field, do it in the spring.

It performs well even in areas inundated with water for several days to a week or two once it is established. Although moderately drought-tolerant, it is probably best to provide even established trees with some irrigation during dry spells in the South. Ironwood grows in sun or shade (as an understory tree in the woods) and tolerates most soils, including wet, but not alkaline.


Relatively few insects attack hornbeam. Maple phenacoccus forms white cottony masses on the undersides of the leaves.


None are normally very serious. Several fungi cause leaf spots on Carpinus. Leaf spots are not serious, so control measures are usually not needed.

Canker, caused by several fungi, causes infected branches to die back, and entire trees die if the trunk is infected and girdled. Severely infected trees cannot be saved, and infected branches are pruned out. This could limit usefulness in parts of the Deep South.



This document is ENH279, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.