Blue beech, also called American hornbeam or musclewood, is medium-sized, slow growing tree native to Eastern North America, including the eastern edge of Minnesota. Leaves are dark green, oval, and serrated, and change to colorful tones of orange, red, and yellow in the fall. The tree’s most remarkable attribute is its smooth, bluish-gray, fluted, almost muscle-like trunk and larger branches (hence the common name musclewood) that give the tree year-round interest. Blue beech flowers are distinctive male and female catkins, with the female catkins developing into hop-like clusters of winged nutlets in summer.
Blue beech is one of the few landscape trees that can thrive in full shade, which, combined with its medium size make it a good fit in many designed landscapes. In addition to its unusual appearance, blue beech wood is also very hard and has been used to make longbows, hand tools, and ox yokes, but the limited size of the trees prevented them from being widely adopted for logging. This group of trees was planted in 2001.
Blue beech can be difficult to plant as a bare-root, but is otherwise relatively easily grown and is not associated with any major diseases.