Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Friday, November 25, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday Part 3: Thanksgiving Celebration~This Time A Tree

The Dancing Tree kicks up her heels and reaches for the sky earlier this November

There is the loveliest tree in my garden. I call her my Dancing Tree.  Ostrya virginiana is a naturally occurring understory tree in dry woodlands like Clay and Limestone and it's planted itself among the oaks and shagbark hickories that populate my garden. Hophornbeams are totally under appreciated native trees that would be lovely in our gardens, if only we knew about them! 

It has an attractive shape and form that looks lovely on the edge of the wildflower garden. As it ages the branches become irregular and have a beautiful layered grace to them. You just have to look up to see the Dancer in the Tree reaching for the sky while performing a high kick.

It's small, rarely growing taller then 30 feet or so. An easy tree that thrives in the dry mesic soil of my garden. It doesn't mind rocky slopes or ridges; it's very shade tolerate, which makes it a perfect small tree to thrive under larger oaks or pines. I can see it as a specimen along walks, in parks and of course, in a naturalized or woodland garden like mine. Hophornbeam is a native of the eastern half of the US and Canada; including most of the Midwestern states and Texas.

O virginiana (Betulaceae family) has serrated leaves that resemble an elm. The stems are very slender, giving the tree a fine textured appearance during the winter season. The fall foliage turns a most becoming yellow....and when the wind blows they flutter and bounce a golden light around the garden.  Sometimes the coppery brown leaves stay the entire winter accenting the textured bark and twisted and knobby trunk.

I find this tree completely charming and recommend it highly for your shady native garden. 

It's a perfect understory tree for the taller oaks and the graceful  lower limbs don't crowd the witch hazels, hypericums and dogwoods at the shrub layer.  Spring Beauties, toothworts, false rue anemone, Iris cristata, Phlox paniculata, ferns and other wildflowers dance at  her feet all spring and summer.
It's a gem of a tree!
It's not a picky grower; will tolerate dry shade; and even high winds. It isn't bothered by most insects or fungal diseases.  It has both male and female flowers (monoecious), so, it needs no pollinators, just the wind.
leaves often hang on all winter making it quite striking in a winter garden
In the forests and woodlands, the buds and catkins of Eastern Hophornbeam are important winter food for ruffed grouse,  sharp-tailed grouse and wild turkey. It's eaten  by bobwhite, red and gray squirrels, cottontails, white-tailed deer and ring-necked pheasant.

Suburban dwellers, like me, will appreciate that it provides food for purple finch, rose-breasted grosbeak and downy woodpeckers. It also is a host plant for the larva of several winter moths.

Small native trees like Hophornbeam might be hard to find, but, they are available.  Try an internet search if you haven't a local native plant nursery nearby.  Middle Tennessee gardeners can find them at GroWild Nursery.


Welcome to Clay and Limestone and  Part 3 of  the Thanksgiving week long celebration of wildflowers. It's our annual celebration of the "First Thanksgiving" when colonists celebrated arriving safely in the New World and all across America families and friends gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. It's traditionally a time for appreciating the bounty in our lives.

This year, I am especially grateful for the health and well being of my family; for loving and supportive friends; for rain that finally fell in Middle Tennessee; for wildflowers that bloomed no matter how horrid the weather has been and for the trees that shade my garden and add to the beauty that surrounds our home.   Thank you all for joining me all this week to share and celebrate the wonderful wildflowers that live and thrive in our gardens. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not, you can still share them.  Please leave a comment and add your name to Mr Linky so others can pop over to see your Wildflower Wednesday post.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone."


  1. It's a beautiful tree, dear Gail. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. The thought of a tree dancing as it reaches for the sky is enchanting.

  2. It is a wonderful time of year if we take the time to look. I will try harder not to look at the devastation in my garden today.

  3. I'll be back after dinner to read yours. But I'm impressed that you have Mr Linky set up simultaneously on all 3 posts!

  4. That is a pretty tree with beautiful fall color.

  5. I was first intrigued by this tree when reading about it when reading Gardening with Native Plants of the South (one of my favorite books). It sounds truly delightful!

  6. Oh I want one....but it's cold up country where we are going. Zone 5, wondering...

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  7. darn it, I forgot about wildflower Wednesday, luckily I still get to enjoy everybody else's flowers. Glad to see a tree taking top spot this month as there's so many native trees and shrubs to love.

  8. That is such a beauty! Hope you're having great weather to go with your garden.

  9. A great tree! Thanks for suggesting it and what a nice theme for Thanksgiving.

    I think we need to add some Hophornbeam to our ravine woodland...

  10. Good of you to sing the praises of this understory underdog (I know, bad pun).


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson