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Extension > Garden > Yard and Garden > Trees and Shrubs > Amur maple (Acer ginnala)

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Blue beech (Carpinus caroliniana)

Rebecca Koetter and Kathy Zuzek

Plant description

Mature height: 20 to 35'
Mature width: 20 to 35'
Growth rate: Slow
Plant form: Oval to rounded
Deciduous or evergreen: Deciduous
Native range: Maine south to Florida and west to Minnesota and Texas
Native to Minnesota: Yes
Invasive in Minnesota: No


Light: Full sun to full shade
Soil texture: Prefers loam soils, tolerates clays
Soil pH: 4.0 to 7.4
Soil moisture: Prefers moist, well-drained soils; tolerates poorly drained
Hardiness zone: 3 to 9
Pests and stresses: None serious
Other: Tolerates periodic, short-term periodic flooding, dense hard wood minimizes damage from ice storms

Blue beech in the landscape

Blue beech, also called musclewood or American hornbeam, is a small slow-growing tree native to the eastern U.S. In Minnesota forests, it is typically found growing as an understory tree in forests of maple, basswood, oak, cherry and white birch. As a landscape plant, it is one of the few trees that thrives in full shade. It is also adaptable to a wide range of soil textures, moisture levels, drainage patterns, and pH levels. Blue beech can be difficult to transplant because of its deep coarse root system. Containerized or balled and burlapped trees should be used for planting. In the landscape it is used as a small shade tree, an accent of specimen plant, and in naturalized and woodland settings. Seeds, buds, twigs, and leaves are food sources for songbirds and small wildlife. It is not a preferred food source for deer.

In the landscape, blue beech is grown as a large shrub, a single-stemmed tree, or a multi-stemmed tree that provides multiple seasons of interest. The most striking features of this plant are the fluted appearance of wood on trunks and branches reminiscent of a flexed muscle and smooth bluish gray bark that provide year-long interest. Winter interest is provided by male flowers called catkins that dangle from branches over the winter before blooming in May. Additional winter interest is provided by buds along branches that are covered in brownish red scales edged in white. Female catkins appear in spring and when pollinated in May, result in unique hop-like fruit that hang from branches until they break apart when seed is shed in fall. Leaves are dark green in summer and change to colorful tones of orange, red, and yellow in fall.

Close up of the Blue Beech foilage and its fruit.

K. Zuzek, UMN Extension

Foliage and hop-like fruit

Closeup of the red, fall leaves of a Blue Beech.

Bailey Nurseries

Fall color

One cultivar is available in Minnesota:

Map of the native range of blue beech in North America.

USDA Forest Service Agric. Handb. 654

Native range of blue beech in North America

Map of the native range of blue beech in Minnesota.

Minnesota DNR

Native range of blue beech in Minnesota

Full picture of a green Blue Beech tree.

Bailey Nurseries

Rounded plant habit of blue beech

Fluted wood and blue gray bark.

J. Ruter, Univ. of GA,

Fluted wood and blue gray bark

Male catkins left on the tree in winter.

J. Ruter, Univ. of GA,

Male catkins add winter interest

Closeup of the buds of a blue beech branch.

C. Evans, Univ. of IL,

Blue beech buds

Cultivar traits:
Cultivar Fall color Growth habit Mature size
(h x w)
'Firespire' Red, orange Upright 20' x 10'


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