Carpinus caroliniana is a small understory tree, ca 10 m, wide, low habit, usually multi-stemmed or low branching, trunk corded, surface sinuous, bark smooth, dark; deeply rooted, winter buds to 0.3 cm.
Leaves alternate, narrowly egg-shaped to 2-10 cm long, 6 cm wide, tip long-pointed, base rounded to slightly lobed, hairy on veins below with tufts of hairy in vein axils, margin doubly, sharply toothed; autumn color yellow, orange to red.
Flowers sexes separate on same tree (monoecious), in catkins males 2.5-5 cm long females shorter (USDA, NRCS 2010), wind pollinated; blooms April-May.
Fruit in elongated catkins to 5-10 cm long, bracts 3-lobed 2-3 cm long, 5-7 veined, fruit a small nut, about 0.6 cm. Seeds wind and bird dispersed, in fall. Seeds, buds and catkins eaten by birds and small mammals, squirrels (Martin et al. 1951).
Wetland status: FAC.
Frequency in New York City: Frequent.
Habitat: Understory of moist, undisturbed woods, often at edges of swamp forests, in moist, well-drained soils pH 4-7.5 (USDA, NRCS 2010).
Notes: Appears about 30 years after abandonment of old-fields. Very shade tolerant as seedlings, possible less so with age, but always found in closed canopy woodlands, shade index 8-10. Resistant to sulfur dioxide. Intolerant of flooding, salt, drought and soil compaction. Susceptible to fire but attacked by few insects or fungi (Burns and Honkala 1990; Hightshoe 1988). Twigs eaten by deer and rabbits (Martin et al. 1951).