Plant Characteristics:

  • Tree: small understory tree 20 to 30 ft tall
  • Bark: smooth, light brownish-gray to dark bluish-gray; sinewy resembling rippling muscles
  • Blooms: March to May
  • Buds: 1/4 in long, brown angles, with a tan silky edge making the buds appear lined
  • Twigs: slender, somewhat zig-zag, brown to gray
  • Flowers: Male flowers in slender yellowish-green 1-2 in hanging catkins; female flaowers in fuzzy yellowish-green 1/2 to 3/4 in long catkins on new branch tips
  • Leaves: deciduous, alternate, simple, 2 to 4 in long, oval with double-toothed edges, long-pointed 
  • Fruit type: small nut attached to a 1in long 3-lobed bract, nutlets land in a cluster from the tree; distribution by wind
  • Fall Foliage: yellow

Additional Details:

  • Wood is tough, close-grained, heavy and strong. It has been used for levers, tool handles, mallets, and wedges. 
  • Seeds are a food source for gray squirrels and birds. 
  • Larval host to the Red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis), Eastern Tiger swallow-tail (Papilio glaucus), and Striped hairstreak (Satyrium liparops).

A member of the Birch Family, also known as Blue Beech, Musclewood, Water Beech and Ironwood. 

Brown, R. and M. Brown. 1972. Woody Plants of Maryland. Port City Press, Baltimore, MD.
Foster, S. and J. Duke. 1990. A field guide to medicinal plants of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
Grimm, W. C. and J. Kartesz. 2002. The Illustrated Book of Trees. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, PA.
Harris, J. and M. Woolf Harris. 1994. Plant Identification Terminology: An illustrated Glossary. Spring Lake Publishing, Spring Lake, UT.
Peterson, L. 1977. A field guide to edible wild plants of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
Virginia Department of Forestry. 2022. Common Native Trees of Virginia – Tree Identification Guide.