Something Shady is Going on with the Hop Hornbeam

Probably, the first tree that comes to mind at the mention of the Upper Buffalo River Valley is beech. And we do have a lot of those iconic trees. But I figured I’d talk about one that gets a bit less appreciation. Hop Hornbeam, or Ostrya virginiana, as it is known by the scientific name. Later I’ll probably get around to the beech trees, as they’re my personal favorite, to be honest.

Hop Hornbeam, also called ironwood, or muscle-wood trees, are small under-story trees. The average hiker is probably not even going to notice them most of the time. But they have good qualities worth knowing. It’s also possible they have a dark side – ooohhh fascinating. I’m digging a little deeper into that dark side today, but first I’ll get this post going. I’ll come back to that later.

The Hop in Hop Hornbeam

It’s the seedpods that look like hops (you know, the herb for making beer). They’re not the same thing, though. Here’s one the Mr. of Hare’s Hideout plucked not too long ago:

A seed pod from the hop hornbeam tree.
A seed pod from the hop hornbeam tree. Photograph ©2019 Robert Christopher

Good things about Hop Hornbeam Trees

If you’re hiking through the woods and need to reach out and grab a tree for support, say you’re slip-sliding down an embankment and would rather slow down a bit. Well, a hop hornbeam tree would be a good choice. They’re not too big so just right for grabbing. The bark is smooth, so no bloody fingers. And the tree is incredibly strong, so it most likely won’t let you down.

Most people don’t care much about them one way or the other. But if you add a few sticks of their dried wood to your fire to get it going, whew, it’ll warm up the house quick! It’s a dense wood.

They don’t ever get very large.

Some shady business

The Mr. (that would be Robert) snatched one of these pods through the car window on the way to school one morning. Well, the young Miss (that would be his daughter, Casey) wanted to inspect it. So he passed it over to her. So here’s where it starts getting shady.

As she began pulling the petals apart on the pod, the thing shot little stickers into her fingers.

Say What??

In all the reading I’ve done on these trees, none of them ever mention such a bad behavior from the pods. All I’ve read talks about how nice and edible the seeds are. They supposedly make a good survival forage.

Here’s the Question

Have YOU ever pulled one of these apart to look inside them? Did they fill your fingertips with little clear stickers? I’m heading down to the tree I know on my driveway in a few minutes to see if that one does. I’ll report back shortly. I’m wearing gloves, just in case…


Okay- so I just did my little bit of investigating. How is it that NONE OF THE SITES MENTION THIS?!!! I did wear gloves, and I did carry them in a bag, just to be on the safe side. But some of the wicked little needles found their way into my skin anyway.

HOW IS THIS EDIBLE?? Just goes to show that you can’t just read things on the internet and take it for granted that they know what they’re talking about. Yes, the seeds may be edible. But you’re gonna suffer something terrible to get at them. My recommendation is that you don’t even try this at home. But if you want to see what’s inside those curious little hop things hanging on the trees, make sure you wear gloves. You’ll have to pull the petals apart, and then look closely on your fingers to see the needles. They’re clear like little blades of fiberglass. Just waiting to find some nice skin to embed into. If you didn’t wear gloves, you won’t need to wonder if what I’m saying is real. You’ll know. Trust me.

Links for more info:

About the Author
Madison Woods is a local artist who makes her watercolor paints from the Ozark rocks.

1 thought on “Something Shady is Going on with the Hop Hornbeam”

  1. Pingback: Beech Nuts are a Real Thing, and They're Edible | Hare's Hideout

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