Musclewood CloseupCarpinus caroliniana goes by many common names.  Musclewood.  Ironwood.  Blue Beech.  American Hornbeam.  I think I like Muscelwood best.  Just look at those branches and that trunk… just like rippling muscles.

The name “Ironwood” probably comes from the fact that this wood is very dense and hard.  According to the Forest Service article listed below, it is used primarily for tool handles, or golf club heads, but little else.

The listing at the USDA Plant database notes two subspecies: C. caroliniana ssp caroliniana is the more southern species.  Here in western New York we apparentely only have C. caroliniana virginiana.  And just to confuse things, in the middle of their overlapping ranges the two subspecies can cross-breed.

Musclewood - Ted Grisez Arboretum, Audubon Center and Sanctuary, Jamestown, NY

Musclewood is a relatively short (30-40 feet) understory tree, not known for its longevity.  It produces flowers in spring which become mature seeds by late summer or early fall.  The seeds are edible.

Musclewood Seeds, Bergman Park, Jamestown, NY   Musclewood Range Map,

According to the US Forest Service:

The minimum seed-bearing age of American hornbeam is 15 years. Production is greatest at 25 to 50 years and probably ceases at about 75 years. Large seed crops are produced at 3- to 5-year intervals.

I wrote last winter about Silky Parchment (Stereum striatum), a fungus which only grows on Carpinus caroliniana.  (Click here for that post.)

Silky Parchment Fungus

Learn more:

10 thoughts on “Musclewood

  1. Wow, I’ve never seen one so old. I can see where it gets the “muscle” in its name from. Here I know them as Blue Beech, and I’ve probably only ever seen “youngsters”, not yet at seed-bearing age, with the striations in the bark but not yet ridges. Perhaps I’ve just overlooked the older ones as something else?

  2. hi Jennifer, we had quite a nice autumn here in England this year, following a poor summer. I have a few pics on my blog. I keep returning to your blog, Chris

  3. This is one of my favorite trees, too, Jen. Looks like it’s been working out at the gym all of it’s life. There’s a nice big one at Woodlawn Cemetery in Canandaigua that I love to go see and touch.

  4. We have them all over the woods in Northern New York. Jefferson County especially has them. They are definitely a very hard wood, when we’ve had call to remove them – cutting them was very, very difficult.

    I wonder what their density rating is compared to an American Walnut.

    • Nyle,
      This is obviously an old blog, but… i am a woodworker very interested in getting my hands on some musclewood. I assume you are in the tree removal business? If there is any possibility that you could supply some, please respond through my web site: My home is a bit west of the tree’s range, so we are unfamiliar with the tree here in Kansas.

  5. Hi Terry, Unfortunately, I don’t work in the tree removal business. I grew up on 50 acres of land in Northern New York. My dad would often clear sections of wood for different reasons, including putting walking paths through. We would run into “Ironwoods” and need to remove them. My day only believed in cutting manually with hand saws. The wood certainly lives up to its name.

    So I apologize but I don’t have a ready source for Ironwood.

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