TREES & plants


A dainty but 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.


Botanical name: 
Ostrya virginiana
All Common Names: 
ironwood, American hophornbeam, eastern hophornbeam, hop-hornbeam
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
  • City parkway
  • Wide median
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade
  • Mixed border
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
Mature Height: 
25-40 feet
Mature Width: 
15-40 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Intolerant
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color
  • Persistent fruit/seeds
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Mid spring
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
  • Yellow
Shape or Form: 
  • Pyramidal
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Transplants Well: 
  • No
  • Browsers
  • Small mammals
  • Songbirds
More Information: 

Size & Form

25 to 40 feet high and 15 to 20 feet wide; pyramidal in youth changing to a small rounded tree with horizontal to drooping branches

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

C-Value: 5
Native to IL, Midwest and southeastern U.S.

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife

Many songbirds are attracted to the tree for the seeds and shelter it provides.

Bark color and texture

Gray brown bark and trunk are ornamentally attractive,  which forming long  verticle 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

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Male flowers are 1 inch long catkins, highly ornamental 

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit is  drooping clusters at the tip of branches that look like hops, hence the common name Hophornbeam
Each small inflated sac has a hard nutlet inside each pod, fruit changes from green to tan