What it looks like

Ironwood has simple, alternating oval-shaped leaves with sharp teeth that are successively larger towards the end of a growing shoot. Male flowers, called catkins, hang in early spring to release pollen. This tree may also be called hop hornbeam, because the maturing clusters of fruit looks like hops. Older trunks have rough, peeling strips of grayish-brown bark.

Where it is found

Ironwood is a small understory tree that can be found growing from southern Ontario north to Lake Nipissing and Sault Ste. Marie, as well as populations in the Northwestern region to Kenora.

Ironwood is a slow-growing tree adapted to many situations, except on waterlogged soils where the similarly sized blue beech thrives.

Planting Tips

  • Size: Up to 12 m tall
  • Moisture: Moist to dry
  • Shade: Very shade-tolerant but tolerates full sun with ample moisture
  • Soil: Prefers well-drained, slightly acidic soils

If planted in full sun on lighter soils, ironwood benefits from a large ring of bark mulch up to 8 cm deep and supplemental watering to prevent leaf scorch in midsummer.

Did you know?

Ironwood may be slow growing but it has the densest, hardest wood of any native tree species.

Image credits

  • Tree: Paul Wray
  • Leaf: Paul Wray
  • Bark: Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service
  • Fruit: Franklin Bonner