Looking for a small to medium-sized tree for your yard? American hop-hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is a great choice for many urban yards due to its ability to grow in different soil conditions, including sandy loam, heavy clay or even rocky soils.
Also known as ironwood because of its dense, hard wood, this slow-growing, drought-tolerant tree grows 7 to 12 metres tall with thin, peeling strips of bark growing on the trunk as the tree ages. Leaves turn yellow in fall and cling into the winter.
Each spring, narrow catkins pollinate the small flowers. Tiny fruit begin to develop. Each fruit or “nutlet” is hidden behind a creamy-white sac that looks like flower petals. Clustered together, these sacs look like hops, giving the tree its common name.
Birds such as ruffed grouse, downy woodpeckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks and purple finches will visit to feast on the catkins or seeds. Others will rest in the tree’s dense, protective branches.
Plant in sun or shade, avoiding areas of standing water or locations near where salt is spread. A natural understory tree, American hop-hornbeam grows well beneath larger shade trees such as oaks and maples or grouped with other small trees such as serviceberries or dogwoods.
Like many other trees, American hop-hornbeam benefits from a compost-mulch top-dressing. Help it thrive by taking simple steps to care for it.