Other common names are Ironwood, Musclewood, Muscle Beech, Blue Beech and Water Beech. The wood is whitish, very hard and heavy, and was used for making bowls and dishes.
The Cherokee would make a compound infusion to treat flux. It was dermatological aid when a compound infusion was used to treat yellowness on skin. A decotion of the inner bark was taken to treat urinary problems.
Seeds buds and catkins, which are slim cylindrical flower clusters, were eaten by songbirds, grouse, pheasants, bobwhites, turkeys, foxes and grey squirrels. The Cherokee knew this and would hunt this game when the catkins appeared.
Rabbits, beaver and deer would eat the leaves and twigs. American Hornbeam is used heavily by beaver because it is available in typical beaver habitat.
During the growing season, leaves are dark green and turn yellow-orange or red in the fall. Fruits are called nutlets that are held together in chain like clusters changing from green to brown during September and October. The smooth, gray trunk of mature trees appear to have a muscle like shaping and led to one of it’s common names of Musclewood. it can grow up to 35 feet and have a spread of up to 35 feet. It likes part shade to full sun.
The first time I spotted the American Hornbeam was on a hike with fellow master gardeners at Kennesaw National Battlefield Park. There was a large grove of Musclewood growing along a creek. It was amazing to study the uniqueness of the trunk and bark of this tree. The leaves are very similar to the American Beech.