Carpinus 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 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.
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.)