Looking for a native tree that grows happily in the shade? Here you go!
Carpinus caroliniana is a small, slow-growing understory tree native to hardwood forests of the eastern US. On a mature tree, the steel-gray bark is smooth and sinewy, fluted and muscle-like, thus one of its common names. Serrated, dark green leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and red come fall.
American Hornbeam is monoecious, with male and female flowers occurring on the same tree, located on the tips of twigs. Male flowers are drooping catkins; female flowers are short, hairy, and arranged in pairs. Flowers appear in spring, with the female catkins giving way to distinctive clusters of winged nutlets.
Hornbeam prefers moist, organically rich soils, but can tolerate dryness when established (as well as periodic flooding). It is shade tolerant and is best grown with wind protection and afternoon shade from other trees or buildings. With full sun, C. caroliniana may have a dense, rounded form, but with more shade, it has an open, arching structure. Hornbeam often becomes a low-branched, multi-trunked small tree that is often wider than it is tall, so site carefully.
Attracts birds (by providing food and understory cover), butterflies. Supports more than 70 species of moths and caterpillars. Larval Host for the Eastern tiger swallowtail, striped hairstreak, red-spotted purple, tiger swallowtail.
Height: 20-35 ft.
Spread: 20-35 ft.
Bloom time: February
Sun: part shade to full shade
Water: medium to wet
Naturalize, street tree, rain garden
photo credit: Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova