Of the many tree species you will find at Rock Point, one of the more curious is the Hophornbeam, a small to medium-sized tree (growing up to 40 feet tall) that is often scattered throughout the understory of northern hardwood forests.
The common name for this species derives from the appearance of its seed pods and dense wood. Hophornbeam produce clusters of oval-shaped seed pods that resemble the fruit of cultivated hops used to make beer. It is believed that “hornbeam” refers to a relative of this species that Europeans once used to make yokes for oxen. Hophornbeam is also commonly referred to as ironwood, owing to the tree’s strong wood that was once highly prized for making posts and tool handles.
Hophornbeam is a co-dominant tree within the unique Dry Oak-Hickory-Hophornbeam forests on several of our Lake Champlain Land Trust protected natural areas, including two healthy examples of this state-significant forest type found at Rock Point. It can be easily identified by its “shredded” bark that is broken into small plates or scales, as if it has been scratched by hundreds of cats! Hophornbeam has alternate, simple, oval leaves and skinny, smooth, reddish-brown twigs.
Hophornbeam trees provide cover and food for wildlife. Hophornbeam buds are an important winter food source for ruffed grouse, the catkins (cylinder-shaped flower clusters) are eaten by songbirds, and the tree’s seeds are a preferred food for wild turkey. Seeds are also eaten by squirrels, rabbits, and Downy Woodpeckers.
Now is a good time to look for the ripened “hop” clusters (tan to brown in color) hanging from Hophornbeam trees. At Rock Point, check out the Holy Trinity and Lone Rock Point trails for the best chance of seeing a Hophornbeam—just remember to look for the unique cat-scratched bark!
* Photos Courtesy of Lake Champlain Land Trust
Above photo features a Hophornbeam seed cluster close up with beetles and leaves
The Lake Champlain Land Trust is the conservation partner of the Rock Point Sanctuary. The Land Trust holds the conservation easements permanently protecting the natural, scenic and recreational resources of the Rock Point land. The Lake Champlain Land Trust is a member-supported, non-profit organization working with you and your community since 1978 to save land, conserve places to hike and paddle, and protect Lake Champlain's water quality. For more information and local places to explore nature, visit our website (www.lclt.org).