The American hornbeam is a native forest understory tree in the Chicago area, making it useful for shady landscapes, naturalized or woodland gardens. New leaves emerge reddish-purple, changing to dark green, then turn yellow to orange-red in the fall, offering a kaleidoscope of color throughout the year. Even in winter, the tree's fluted blue-gray bark with long, sinewy ridges make it a special addition to the landscape.
- Deciduous (foliage falls off)
- Chicago area
- North America
- Zone 3
- Zone 4
- Zone 5
- Zone 6
- Zone 7
- Zone 8
- Zone 9
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
- Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
- Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
- Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
- Dry sites
- Occasional flooding
- Alkaline soil
- Clay soil
- Acid soil
- Alkaline soil
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Medium tree (25-40 feet)
- Small tree (15-25 feet)
- Early winter
- Mid winter
- Late winter
- Late summer
- Early fall
- Mid fall
Size and Form
25 to 35 feet high and 25 to 30 feet wide; rounded form
Tree & Plant Care
Plant in the spring, shallow-rooted and difficult to transplant.
Tolerate dry, shady sites.
Disease, pests, and problems
Minor leaf spots
Disease, pest, and problem resistance
Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.
Native geographic location and habitat
Native to the eastern half of the United States.
Commonly found in wooded areas as an understory tree.
Attracts birds and butterflies
Birds use this tree for shelter and eat the nutlets for food.
Bark color and texture
Blue-gray, fluted with long, sinewy ridges.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color
Simple, alternate leaves; 2 1/2 -5" long, double serrated margins with a pointed tips.
Leaves emerge reddish-purple, changing to dark green, then a yellow to orange-red in the fall.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Inconspicuous; tiny male flowers in pendulous catkins in April; small female flowers near the ends of the twigs.
photo: John HagstromFruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
Light brown nutlets, maturing in Oct., with a three-lobed bract appearing as an umbrella over the nuts; nutlets and bracts in dangling clusters.
Bracts change from light green to yellow in fall.