American Hornbeam Great Addition For Low Maintenance Landscapes


As each of us looks over their landscape, appreciating those areas that turned out well with the proper location of plants and lawns that are growing well, we can all find that portion of our landscape that just doesn’t look right.

Perhaps it is too shady to support a lush lawn or other sun loving plant.  Maybe it stays a little wet in the spring and the water logged soil won’t allow many plants to thrive as they prefer a well-drained soil.

If that is your case, let me suggest the American hornbeam might be the perfect addition.  Hornbeam is a tough, small native tree that I’ll bet most haven’t heard about.

I first heard about this tree from a retired forester years ago in Woodville. He taught it to me as an “Ironwood” tree.  American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), also called blue-beech, ironwood, or water-beech is a small slow-growing tree in the understory of eastern mixed hardwood forests.

It is an attractively shaped, low-maintenance understory tree for shady sites. It can be grown in lawns in formal landscapes or naturalized in woodland areas.   It has no serious insect or disease problems.

The short, often crooked trunk covered with a smooth slate gray bark is characteristically ridged, resembling the muscles of a flexed arm.

Easily grown in average, medium moisture soil in part shade to full shade. Best growth and development of American hornbeam occurs on rich, wet sites, but it is not restricted to such sites and can tolerate a wide variety of conditions.

American hornbeam is unsuited for commercial timber production because it is usually small, twisted, and multi-stemmed. The wood is close-grained, very hard, and heavy but little used because such a small tree is rarely converted into sawed products.  The wood of American hornbeam is not important commercially because the tree is too small, but it’s tough, dense wood is used for tool handles, levers, wedges, and mallets.  It is so tough, that it would probably put the traditional hickory handles to shame.

If this tree sounds like it would fancy a spot in your landscape, you‘ll find it and many more at the Master Gardener’s Fall Native Plant Sale.  In its third year at the Farmers Market, it will be on Saturday, September 26.  Hundreds of well adapted native plants will be available.  Master Gardeners will host the sale and will be on hand to help you match the right plant to the right spot in your landscape.  Sale begins at 8 am and is typically sold out before lunch.

To see a list of the varieties sold, go to or swing by the Extension office next to the Farmers Market for a list.  This year’s sponsors are GVCS/Whataburger and Ellen C. Temple. Proceeds will be used for educational projects in Angelina County.

Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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