Eastern hophornbeam

Ostrya virginiana
Family: Betulaceae

Natural History
Leaves and hops-like fruits of Eastern Hophornbeam
Photo credit: Niels Proctor, University of Florida

Eastern hophornbeam is a small tree that inhabits hardwood forests across the eastern United States, from northern Florida to southeastern Canada. The common name comes from the fruits that form papery clusters resembling the hops used in brewing beer.

Habitat & Range

Eastern hophornbeam can be found growing on the banks and fertile soils of bottomland hardwoods, usually on the edges of swamps, streams, and rivers. Other associated species include American hornbeam, red maple, sycamore, swamp chestnut oak, redbud, and sumac.

Wildlife Use

Hophornbeam is known to have wildlife resource value to songbirds, grouse, squirrels, and white-tailed deer.

Human Use

Because hophornbeam is not a large tree, it lacks economic importance. The wood is very dense and strong, so it was historically used to make tool handles and posts.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form:

Hophornbeam is a medium tree that reaches heights of 20' to 30'. It has a round-topped, vaselike crown and a columnar trunk.

Leaves:

The leaves are simple, alternately arranged, deciduous, and 2" to 4" long by 1½" to 2½" wide. The oblong shaped leaves usually have dark yellow-green upper surfaces while the underneath surfaces are paler and have tufts of hair near the midvein. The leaf base is rounded or wedged, sometimes unequal, and the tip tapers to a long point. The leaf margin is doubly serrated with fine teeth.

Flowers:

Very small and only present in early spring. Not noticeable.

Fruit:

The fruit is a small, brown nut that is ¼" long. The nuts are clustered in a conelike form. In the drooping clusters each nut is enclosed in a papery sac.

Bark:

The reddish-brown to gray-brown bark is rough. Old trunks are shaggy where the platelike ridges appear to be shedding.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
  • Eastern hophornbeam can easily be confused with another member of the birch family, American hornbeam. The fruits are one key feature for telling the two species apart. The fruits of hophornbeam are held in papery cones that resemble the hops used in brewing beer (hence the common name). American hornbeam has hard, spherical fruit hanging under leaf-like, 3-lobed bracts. The bark is another feature used to distinguish between these two birches. Hophornbeam has loose strips of reddish brown to gray creating a rough, "clawed" bark. Hornbeam has a smooth bark with an undulating texture resembling a "muscular" appearance.

 

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