American Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), also known as Eastern Hornbeam or Ironwood, is found throughout all of Ohio as well as throughout most of the Eastern United States and southernmost Eastern Canada. The "hop" portion of its name refers to the resemblance of its fruits to those of true hops that are used in the production of beer. Hornbeam refers to a related European tree whose wood was used to yoke oxen; therefore, its American counterpart wood was also used as a "beam" with which to yoke "horned" beasts of burden.
Ironwood refers to its strength and is confusing since this is also a common name for Blue Beech. The growth habit of the slow-growing American Hophornbeam is upright pyramidal and stately in youth, becoming gracefully rounded with slightly pendulous branch tips with age. It is found in very dry, moist, or even occasionally wet soils, in sunny fields or under the canopy of large forest trees. This tree achieves a height of 30 feet and a width of 30 feet when found in the open. As a member of the Birch Family, it is related to the Alders, Birches, Hornbeams, and Filberts.
Planting Requirements - American Hophornbeam prefers moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils of rich or average composition. However, it adapts quite readily to wet or dry, poor, alkaline soils with a slightly reduced growth rate (which is slow to begin with). It is found in zones 3 to 9, and grows best in full sun or partial sun, but adapts to partial shade, often as an understory tree.
Potential Problems - American Hophornbeam has few diseases or pests of significance; witches' broom rarely occurs. Leaf scorch is sometimes seen when this tree is found in dry soils during times of drought.
Identifying Features - American Hophornbeam
American Hophornbeam has leaves that are alternate, elliptical, doubly serrated, with prominent veins and a drawn-out tip.
Fall color is a mixture of green, yellow, and brown.
American Hophornbeam, a monoecious species, has male catkins that are green and detectable in mid-summer, brown and easily seen in winter, and yellow-brown and in flower in mid-spring.
They often occurs in a cluster of three, but can be single or double as well. The small, nearby female flowers give rise to hop-like fruits that are lime green in early summer, beige-yellow in mid-summer, and brown by late summer.
The immature bark of American Hophornbeam is very flaky, loosely covering the spreading branches and upper trunks.
Mature trunks, however, have bark that occurs as thin vertical strips, slightly shredding at the ends. Both types of bark are gray-brown in color.