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March 2019 - Blue Beech

For the month of March, we are featuring the Blue Beech.

By Marg Szabo

Blue Beech

Photo: Ontario.ca

This deciduous tree is one of the smaller trees in the Carolinian forests, reaching a height of 8 metres (26 feet). It is a slow-growing tree and tends to have a shorter life span than most other trees. It will start producing fruit after approximately 15 years, until about age 75. It branches out lower on the trunk than most trees giving it good balance in the ground. Because of its unique shape and smaller size, the blue beech is often found in parks and urban areas. 

The blue beech is often called the “musclewood tree” because of the smooth, muscle-like appearance of its bark; it is also known as the American Hornbeam (or Charme de Caroline in French). Its leaves are a bluish green – hence the name. In autumn the leaves turn golden yellow and orange. The blue beech produces both male and female flowers on the same tree - yellow catkins containing male reproductive organs that remain during the winter, and shorter green catkins in the spring containing female ones. On windy days, the tree can self-pollinate. Its nutty fruit grows in elongated clusters, ripening in November. The fruit, buds, twigs and leaves are important food sources for birds and smaller mammals.

The blue beech can generally be found growing in Eastern North America.  In Southern Ontario, it grows as an understory tree in the Carolinian forest in spaces between taller trees utilizing the sunlight filtering through the canopy.  It is very shade tolerant and commonly grows on lower slopes, along streams and lake shorelines. This versatile tree can grow in sandy, loamy, and even clay soils. 

The cream-coloured wood of this tree is very dense and strong – early settlers used it to make bowls and tool handles. In modern times the wood is used for flooring, cogs, tool handles, golf clubs, and some furniture. The blue beech was also used by some early indigenous North Americans for medicinal purposes. 

For more on the Blue Beech, check out these sources:

https://www.ontario.ca/page/blue-beech

https://www.uoguelph.ca/arboretum/thingstosee/trees/bluebeech

https://treecanada.ca/resources/trees-of-canada/blue-beech-carpinus-caroliniana/

https://tidcf.nrcan.gc.ca/en/trees/factsheet/327

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Carpinus+caroliniana

http://www.softschools.com/facts/plants/american_hornbeam_facts/1277/

https://extension.umn.edu/trees-and-shrubs/blue-beech