Ironwood is a tough understory tree with beautiful birch-like leaves, grayish-brown flaky bark, fine-textured drooping branches, and attractive hop-like fruits. Ironwood is considered one of Illinois' toughest native hardwoods and is not only ornamental but resistant to many disease and insect problems. Excellent tree for naturalized landscapes.
This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.
All Common Names:
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Chicago area,
- North America
- Residential and parks,
- City parkway,
- Wide median
- Shade tree,
- Large tree (more than 40 feet),
- Medium tree (25-40 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
- Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
- Zone 3,
- Zone 4,
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7,
- Zone 8,
- Zone 9
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Moderately Tolerant
- Fall color,
- Persistent fruit/seeds,
- Attractive bark
Season of Interest:
- Mid summer,
- Late summer,
- Early fall
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
- Small mammals,
Tree & Plant Care
Full sun to partial shade, naturally occurs in dry woodland understory.
Best in slightly acid soil that is moist, fertile and well-drained, can tolerate dry gravelly soils in partial shade once established.
Difficult to transplant and slow to establish.
Not tolerant of salt.
Prune in late winter or early spring.
Disease, pests, and problems
Not susceptible to any serious insect or disease problems
Native geographic location and habitat
Native to IL, Midwest and southeastern U.S.
Bark color and texture
Gray brown bark and trunk are ornamentally attractive, forming long vertical shredding strips.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color
Alternate, simple deciduous leaves, 2 to 5 inches long and 1 to 3 inches wide.
Medium to dark green leaves with doubly serrate leaf margins and a pointed leaf tip. Fall color is yellow.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Male flowers are 1 inch long catkins. Female flowers small and inconspicuous
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
Fruit are drooping clusters at the tip of branches that look like hops, hence the common name hop hornbeam
Each small inflated sac has a hard nutlet inside; fruit changes from green cream to tan.