Eastern Ironwood

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
The Eastern Ironwood, known also as the American Hophornbeam, Eastern Hop-hornbeam, Hophornbeam, Ironwood, or Leverwood, stretches over much of the Eastern United States with its attractive foliage and bell-like inflorescences. Be sure to come in the summer to admire its attractive yellow-green color and festive white flowers. The tree has 3 trunks, arising from the main trunk at 17.5 cm, probably after coppicing. The estimated DBH is 0.1414 m based on calculations given by Hari.
Erika and Oscar
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
The crown is broad and rounded or cone-shaped. The trunk is erect, often crooked, and distinct almost to the top of the tree.
Date of tree entry: 
8.50 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.14 m

There are too many multiple trunks to accurately measure the DBH, so this is just an estimate
The bark on youthful trees is smooth, hard, chestnut brown colored, rapidly getting to be gray and rough (as seen in the picture). On adult and mature trees, the bark is grayish-brown colored and is broken into short, thin, vertical strips that are free at both closures. The strips can be seen to spiral around the trunk. They are stringy, fibrous and are very easy to rub off. References: http://minnesotaseasons.com/Plants/ironwood.html
Twigs & branches
The branches of the Eastern Ironwood are long, slender, and spreading, while the twigs are slender, reddish brown, hairy, and they zigzag outward from the tree. This tree has three trunks that diverge at 17.5 cm, probably as a result of coppicing (the periodic cutting back of a tree or shrub to ground level in order to stimulate growth. References: http://minnesotaseasons.com/Plants/ironwood.html
The Eastern Ironwood has simple, deciduous leaves that are elliptical with a heart-shaped taper at the tip, 5-12 cm long, and 2-5 cm wide. The veins extend outward from a central vein and are straight and parallel, while the sides are sharply toothed. The top side are yellow-green and hairless, and the bottom side is the same color but soft and hairy to the touch. In the fall, the leaves change color to a dark yellow and often stay on the tree until winter. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Seasons (http://minnesotaseasons.com/Plants/ironwood.html).
Reproductive Structures
Male and female flowers are in separate clusters on the same tree, which means that the plant is monoecious with imperfect flowers. Male inflorescences are dense, drooping, 2-5 cm long catkins in groups of 2 or 3 at the ends of the twigs. In the winter they are short, stiff, and erect. Female inflorescences are in loose, elongated clusters at the ends of new shoots, with the eventual fruits contained inside papery sacs. References: http://minnesotaseasons.com/Plants/ironwood.html
The fruits of the Eastern Ironwood are small, flattened nuts, which are clustered inside egg-shaped papery sacs that resemble hops (indeed, another common name for the tree is the hop-hornbeam). Seeds are light, about 66,000 cleaned seeds per kg. The nuts are enclosed in inflated sacs that provides buoyancy and improved dispersal by the wind. The individual fruits are 5-8 mm long, while the fruit clusters are 2 cm long. Photo courtesy of Karren Wcisel (http://www.treetopics.com/ostrya_virginiana/index.htm).
  • Mature Bark in the Spring
  • Juvenile Bark in the Winter
  • Eastern Ironwood in the Winter
  • Eastern Ironwood in the Summer
Natural range of distribution: 
This tree can be found in all counties of Illinois and much of the Eastern United States (see Distribution Map), where it is native and fairly common. Typical habitats include mesic to dry deciduous woodlands, woodland edges, limestone glades, rocky wooded slopes, edges of cliffs, edges of wooded bluffs, and abandoned fields. Easter Ironwood is usually found in upland wooded areas.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The Easter Ironwood is a hardwood tree in the family Betulaceae. Its wood is very durable and used for making a variety of modern tools. Interestingly, its extremely high density and resistance to compression makes an excellent material for the construction of wooden longbows, which were an important weapon historically. Longbows led in one famous case to the triumph of the severely out-numbered British army over the French at Agincourt, which was immortalized in the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s King Henry V. It is probable that a relative of the Easter Ironwood was used to make those bows. Native Americans used Ostrya virginiana medicinally to treat toothache, to bathe sore muscles, for hemorrhages from lungs, for coughs, kidney trouble, female weakness, cancer of the rectum, consumption, and flux (D. E. Moerman 1986). In modern times, Easter Ironwoods are used for making fence posts and for decoration, often as street trees.

The Eastern Ironwood is monoecious; I to 3 staminate infloresecences develop at the end of branches late in the summer that precede pistillate flower development. Pollen forms, matures, and sheds in spring through wind dissemination. Solitary pistillate inflorescences first appear with the beginning of leaf development, and full bloom occurs about a month later. In the southeast, flowering occurs in the first two weeks of April, and in the north, between mid-May and mid-June (so unfortunately, we were not able to capture it in person). The fruits develop during the summer and are ripe by the end of August in the midwest and as late as October in the south. The hoplike inflorescence begins to break up immediately after ripening and the seeds are dispersed throughout the fall and into early winter. Birds provide a secondary means of seed dispersal after wind. Trees begin to be fruitful at age 25. Reference: https://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/ostrya/virginiana.htm

Ostrya virginiana.” County-level distribution map from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2013.

Ostrya virginiana.” Flora of North America (FNA). Missouri Botanical Garden – via eFloras.org.

See individual sections for specific references.

Media and Arts

Speech upon Yale Nature Walk Day

Marta Wells: O that we now had here

But one ten thousand of those trees in Connecticut

That are not seen to-day!

Erika: What’s she that wishes so?

My teacher Marta Wells? No, my fair teacher;

If Yale Nature Walk is mark’d to die, we are enough

To do our country loss; and if to thrive,

The fewer trees, the greater share of Yale Nature Walk.

God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one tree more.

By Jove, I am not covetous for grades,

Nor care I who doth feed upon my fruits;

It yearns me not if classmates my waders wear;

Such outward things dwell not in my desires.

But if it be a sin to covet Yale Nature Walk,

I am the most offending soul alive.

Oscar: No, faith, my teacher, wish not a tree from Connecticut.

God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour

As one tree more methinks would share from me

For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!

Rather proclaim it, Marta Wells, through my host,

That he which hath no stomach to this Yale Nature Walk,

Let him depart; his passport shall be made,

And the shuttle schedule put into his purse;

We would not live in that tree’s company

That fears his fellowship to live with us.

Erika: This day is call’d the feast of Yale Nature Walk.

The tree that outperforms this day, and comes safe to the webpage,

Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,

And rouse tree at the name of Yale Nature Walk.

The tree that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast their neighbours,

And say ‘To-morrow is Yale Nature Walk.’

Then will they shed their leaves and show their fruit,

And say ‘These views I had on Yale Nature Walk.’

Yale graduates forget; yet all shall be forgot,

But the tree’ll remember, with advantages,

What feats we did this day.

Oscar: Then shall the names,

Familiar in your mouths as household words-

Hari the King, Oscar and Erika,

Dr. Wells and Cameron,

Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.

This story shall the good professor teach her students;

And Yale Nature Walk shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

Erika: We few, we happy few, we band of E&EB 223 2017;

For they to-day that learn of trees with me

Shall be my sibling; be they ne’er so anti-Nature,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And students in the residential colleges now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their educations cheap whiles any speaks

That stood with us upon Yale Nature Walk.