What Do These ThreeTrees Have in Common?

What do these three trees have in common?

They are all called Blue Beech  (Carpinus  caroliniana)

Blue Beech Trout Park

10/28/07 Trout Park  Elgin.  Blue Beech growing wild next to the trail

Blue Beech CBG

Blue Beech at Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe 8/30/09

Dick Young describes Carpinus caroliniana as “a light gray, smooth-barked tree to 30’, with undulating, muscle-like ripples in the trunk and branches.”

blue Beech branch

Another common name for it is “Musclewood.”  Note how the lichen adds even more interest to these branches.

blue Beech PP winter

12/7/09  Blue Beech at Potawatomi Park  in St. Charles.  It  doesn’t look like the same species at all.

Blue Beech fall

10/21/09  Same tree in Autumn.

Blue Beech leaves

While the shape of the tree and the trunk and branches don’t match what I consider the Blue Beech to look like, the leaves and seeds are the same, according to Jack Shouba, Biologist and Instructor at the Morton Arboretum.

So why is the shape of the tree so different? Where are the “muscular” trunk and branches and the smooth gray bark?

Jack and I looked into this puzzle, but didn’t come up with a definitive answer.  A Landscape Architect told Jack that it depends how they are grown in the nursery;  Possibility Place Nursery in Monee says that a tree grown in the nursery in full sun will grow in a formal, upright character, but if grown in shade it will have a looser, informal shape.

Its natural habitat is as an understory tree in mesic woods, say Swink  and Wilhelm in Plants of the Chicago Region.  Dick Young tells us that In Kane County, Blue Beech grows wild in the dry-mesic woods facing Mill Creek in the Mooseheart Ravine in Batavia Township, and it also grows in Sleepy Hollow Ravine, not too far from where I live.  Must make a Field Trip soon.

blue beech starved rock

This is a photo taken at Starved Rock by Jack Shouba.  It appears to have only one trunk, but it clearly shows the fluted bark.

I understand that many more upright trees can be grown in a nursery plot than multi-stem trees and it can also be used in more landscape situations.   The multi-stemmed tree at the Chicago Botanic Garden, however, takes one’s breath away–don’t we need more breathtaking sights?  The multi-stemmed tree with the fluted gray bark would have been stunning planted against the fence at Potawatomi Park.  Absolutely stunning.

6 Responses to What Do These ThreeTrees Have in Common?

  1. Sue Harney February 10, 2017 at 4:49 pm #

    These photos are gorgeous. I want some of these trees. Thank you for reminding us of how beautiful they are.

  2. Gloria Klimek February 10, 2017 at 9:09 pm #

    They also grow in Norris Nature Preserve in St. Charles.

  3. Suzanne Massion February 11, 2017 at 11:44 am #

    One of my favorite shrubs. So glad we had Tom VanderPoel plant a few of these 27 years ago when we built our house and seeded the prairie out front. We probably put them in too close to the house itself (they are tree size now), but I love their leaves and muscle like trunks. Robins and Cardinals are fond of building nests in the interweaving branches. What’s not to like?

  4. Mary Alice Masonick February 11, 2017 at 5:58 pm #

    Beautiful!

  5. Marcia February 11, 2017 at 7:30 pm #

    Thanks for the question, a fun puzzle, with a Blue Beech tree tutorial!

  6. Jason February 12, 2017 at 11:08 am #

    Interesting how the same tree will look very different in different settings. I would really like to get one of these Musclwood trees for myself.

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