Tree of the Month: Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana)
Posted: August 20, 2012
Although it is found primarily in moist, slightly acid soils along woodland rivers and streams, it is adaptable to a range of conditions in the landscape. It tolerates full sun, where its foliage develops the most intense shades of yellow, orange and scarlet in the fall. Musclewood is also tolerant of periodically wet soils, as well as drier sites than its native habit would suggest. In the “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants,” Michael Dirr notes that it “has been used in shopping mall island plantings in Georgia and performed reasonably well.”
Carpinus caroliniana blooms in spring, with separate male and female catkins. While the male catkins are not particularly showy, the female catkins produce distinctive clusters of winged nutlets that add some ornamental interest. The fluted, sinuous bark is very characteristic of Carpinus caroliniana and gives rise to one of its common names, musclewood. The bark is so distinguishing that these trees are easy to identify in the winter woods.
Musclewood grows 20 to 35 feet tall with a similar spread, and trees are often multi-stemmed. With clean summer foliage, interesting fruits, good fall color and attractive bark, musclewood is an excellent choice for a specimen or patio tree. Its tolerance of periodic flooding makes it a good candidate for use in rain gardens.