Ironwood Ostrya virginiana
Family: Betulaceae (Birch)
Branching: Alternate
Other names: Hop-hornbeam

This small tree is quite distinctive when mature.  It is found in hardwood forests in the understory, but can also be found growing out in the open (where it looks quite different).  Its bark is usually the first thing noticed; it peels in thin, vertical strips.  When young, though, it can be mistaken for several other species, especially Musclewood.  Those two look nearly identical before they acquire their characteristic bark (Ironwood's buds tend to diverge more from the twig)

Winter twig.  Notice the thin twigs and often greenish colour.

Another view of the winter twig

Ironwood (left) twig and Musclewood (right) twig.  Ironwood tends to be lighter and browner
and its buds diverge from the twig more, however, these characteristics are variable.

Young bark.  Often it gets the horizontal strips common to
cherries and birches.

Two ages of bark

The distinctive peeling bark of Ironwood

Another view of the bark, with thinner strips

The fruit, sometimes visible in the winter.

Like other members of the Birch family, Ironwood has catkins in the winter, though they
are not seen nearly as often as those of Birches, Alders or Hazelnuts

Dead Ironwood leaves often remain on the tree over the winter

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copyright © 2008 Josh Sayers
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