American hornbeam occurs naturally over a large area in eastern North America. It thrives in shade and often grows in the forest under a canopy of larger species, on moist lake shores and river banks. It grows as a multi-stemmed shrub or small tree with an attractive crown. The dark grey, smooth and shiny bark emphasises the ridges of the trunk, which look like tensed muscles under the bark.
The leaves have numerous strong parallel veins which give them an attractive wavy shape. In autumn the species has decorative seed catkins resembling paper lanterns, while the leaves take on attractive shades of yellow, orange and red.
American hornbeam is a popular garden tree in North America and is considered hardier than the European hornbeam (C. betulus). In Europe, the American species is grown mainly in special collections. American hornbeam seed was brought to Mustila in 1996 as two separate batches collected in Canada’s Ontario and the United States’ Vermont. Its restrained beauty can be hidden in summer by more luxuriant growth in the Arboretum but its fantastic autumn colours can’t be ignored.