Ostrya virginiana

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American hophornbeam
A hophornbeam branch with the characteristic hop-resembling fruits[1] in early summer
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fagales
Family: Betulaceae
Genus: Ostrya
O. virginiana
Binomial name
Ostrya virginiana
Generalized native range
  • Carpinus virginiana Mill.
  • Zugilus virginica Raf.
  • Ostrya italica subsp. virginiana (Mill.) H.J.P.Winkl.
  • Carpinus virginica Münchh.
  • Carpinus triflora Moench
  • Ostrya virginica (Münchh.) Willd.
  • Ostrya americana F.Michx.
  • Ostrya ostrya MacMill.
  • Ostrya baileyi Rose
  • Ostrya guatemalensis (H.J.P.Winkl.) Rose
  • Ostrya mexicana Rose

Ostrya virginiana, the American hophornbeam, is a species of Ostrya native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia west to southern Manitoba and eastern Wyoming, southeast to northern Florida and southwest to eastern Texas.[4] Populations from Mexico and Central America are also regarded as the same species, although some authors prefer to separate them as a distinct species, Ostrya guatemalensis.[3] Other names include eastern hophornbeam, hardhack (in New England), ironwood, and leverwood.[5][6]


Ostrya virginiana (American hophornbeam) is a small deciduous understory tree growing to 18 m (59 ft) tall and 20–50 centimetres (8–20 in) trunk diameter. The bark is brown to gray-brown, with narrow shaggy plates flaking off, while younger twigs and branches are smoother and gray, with small lenticels.[5][7] Very young twigs are sparsely fuzzy to thickly hairy; the hairs (trichomes) drop off by the next year.[8]

The leaves are ovoid-acute, 5–13 cm (2–5 in) long and 4–6 cm (1+122+14 in) broad, pinnately veined, with a doubly serrated margin. The upper surface is mostly hairless, while the lower surface is sparsely to moderately fuzzy (rarely densely hairy).[5][7]

The flowers are catkins (spikes) produced in early spring at the same time as the new leaves appear. The staminate (male) catkins are 2–5 cm (34–2 in) long,[5] and arranged in groups of 1–4.[7] The pistillate (female) catkins are 8–15 mm (5161932 in) long, containing 10–30 flowers each.[5]

Pollinated female flowers develop into small nutlets 3–5 mm (18316 in) long fully enclosed in a papery sac-shaped involucre 10–18 mm (381116 in) long and 8–10 mm (51638 in) wide.[5] The involucre changes from greenish-white to dull brown as the fruit matures.[7]

American hophornbeam is similar to its close relative American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), which can be distinguished by its smooth bark and nutlets enclosed in open, three-lobed bracts.[7]


There are two subspecies:

  • Ostrya virginiana subsp. guatemalensis (H.J.P.Winkl.) A.E.Murray – central and southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador[9]
  • Ostrya virginiana subsp. virginiana – eastern half of United States, eastern Canada

Populations along the Atlantic coast have slightly smaller leaves, and are sometimes separated as O. virginiana var. lasia Fernald.[5]

Habitat and ecology[edit]

In temperate areas of the US and Canada, Ostrya virginiana is found in lowland and foothill forests, where it is predominantly an understory tree.[2]

In Mexico and Central America, Ostrya virginiana is found in cloud forests and humid portions of mid-elevation oak, pine–oak, and pine forests between 1200 and 2800 meters elevation.[10]

The buds and catkins are important source of winter food for some birds, notably ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus).[7] Additionally, the nutlets and buds are eaten by birds, deer, and rabbits.[1]


It is grown as an ornamental plant and is sometimes used as a street tree.

Its wood is very resilient and is valued for making tool handles and fence posts.

Being a diffuse porous hardwood and having extremely high density and resistance to compression, it is an excellent material for the construction of wooden longbows.


  1. ^ a b Little, Elbert L. (1980). The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region. New York: Knopf. p. 374. ISBN 0-394-50760-6.
  2. ^ a b Stritch, L.; Shaw, K.; Roy , S.; Wilson, B. (2014). "Ostrya virginiana". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2014: e.T194540A2346581. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-3.RLTS.T194540A2346581.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Ostrya virginiana". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  4. ^ "Ostrya virginiana". County-level distribution map from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Furlow, John J. (1997). "Ostrya virginiana". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). Vol. 3. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press – via eFloras.org, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  6. ^ Nelson Sutherland, C.H. (2008). Catálogo de las plantes vasculares de Honduras. Espermatofitas: 1-1576. SERNA/Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Hilty, John (2020). "Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)". Illinois Wildflowers.
  8. ^ Chayka, Katy; Dziuk, Peter (2016). "Ostrya virginiana (Ironwood)". Minnesota Wildflowers.
  9. ^ Whittemore, Alan. "Ostrya virginiana". Flora Mesoamericana. Missouri Botanical Garden – via Tropicos.org.
  10. ^ Mario González-Espinosa, Jorge A. Meave, Francisco G. Lorea-Hernández, Guillermo Ibarra-Manríquez and Adrian C. Newton, eds (2011). The Red List of Mexican Cloud Forest Trees. Fauna & Flora International, Cambridge, UK. 2011. ISBN 9781903703281

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