Musclewood or Ironwood

Carpinus caroliniana Walter – Betulaceae – birch family

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There is one Musclewood mapped in the arboretum. However there are no donation records for this species.

When measured on 24 May 2016, this tree had a diameter at breast height of <2.5 cm, was ca. 4 m tall, and was in fair condition due to a wound at the base of the tree. It is located at N42.24329°, W084.72828°.

Muscelwood is a species that is native to Michigan. Typically growing into a large shrub or small tree, this species has been known to reach heights of 5-10 m (15-35 ft) and develop trunks 15-30 cm (6-12 in) in diameter. The bark of this tree is thin, bluish-gray, and smooth. Dark patches may occur on the bark due to the muscle like ridges that are characteristic of the trunks of this species. Leaves are alternate, simple, and borne singly on short shoots in two rows. The leaf blades are 5-10 cm (2-4 in) long and 2-4 cm (0.75-1.5 in) wide. They are elliptical to oblong, sharp pointed, and the margins are sharply doubly serrated with larger teeth at the ends of veins. Flowers bloom in April-May as the leaves develop. They are apetalous, meaning they lack petals, and they are borne in catkins. Trees are monecious meaning that both “male” and “female” flowers are present on each tree. “Male” catkins are not visible until spring, typically 2.5-4 cm (1-1.75 in) long, and are greenish in color. The “female” catkins are 1.2-1.9 cm (0.5-0.75 in) long and have hairy, greenish scales. The flowers are wind-pollinated. The fruits are small nuts that ripen in mid-summer but are usually persistent until late fall after the leaves have fallen.

This species is highly shade-tolerant, slow growing, and short lived. It is another important sub-dominant tree that makes up the understory layer of the forest. However it occupies different sites than the Hop-Hornbeam tree which is another understory species. This species has many common names, but the common name Blue-Beech stems from its bark having a strikingly similar look to that of American Beech. However Musclewood is not a true beech species. Its other common name Ironwood is used to describe the dense, tough wood of this species.


Barnes BV, Wagner, WH Jr. 2004. Michigan trees, revised and updated: a guide to the trees of the Great Lakes region. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ. Michigan Press 447 p.

Michigan Flora Online. A.A. Reznicek, E.G. Boss, & B.S. Walters. February 2011. University of Michigan [Internet]. [cited 9 May-2016]. Available from:

Peattie, Donald C. 1948. A natural history of trees of eastern and central North America. Boston (MA): Houghton Mifflin Company 606 p.

Skean JD, Nobert HA, Martin LC. Albion Trees. 2014. Information about the common street trees of Albion, Michigan [Internet]. [cited 9 May-2016]. Available from: