Carpinus caroliniana, commonly known as the American hornbeam or ironwood, is a deciduous tree species native to eastern North America. It belongs to the family Betulaceae and is closely related to birch and alder.
The American hornbeam typically grows to a height of 20-30 feet (6-9 meters) with a spread of 20-35 feet (6-11 meters). It has a round, dense crown with a smooth, gray bark that is often mistaken for muscle tissue or elephant skin. The leaves are alternate, simple, and ovate in shape, with a serrated margin and a dark green color that turns to yellow, orange, or red in the fall. The flowers are small, greenish-yellow catkins that appear in spring before the leaves. The fruit is a small, woody nutlet that is surrounded by a leafy bract.
American hornbeam is commonly used as an ornamental tree in landscapes due to its attractive bark, dense foliage, and compact size. It is also popular for use as a hedge, screen, or understory tree in woodland gardens. The wood of the American hornbeam is extremely hard and heavy, and has been used for tool handles, mallets, and other small wooden objects.
In terms of its ecology, American hornbeam is an important food source for wildlife, including squirrels, rabbits, and birds. It also provides habitat for a variety of insect species. The tree prefers moist, well-drained soils and can tolerate both sun and shade. It is generally resistant to pests and diseases, making it a low-maintenance tree for home gardens and landscapes.