The most noticeable thing about this tree is its grey bark broken into strips that are loose at both ends. The branches and young trunks are reddish-brown. Leaves, like elm leaves, have a fine hairy coating beneath. The fruits of the American hop-hornbeam mature in August, forming clusters of membranous sacs at the tip of a stalk. Each sac contains one seed called a nutlet.
Being very shade-tolerant, the American hop-hornbeam is commonly found in the understory of broadleaf forests. This species prefers dry well-drained and relatively nutrient-rich soils and hence grows best on south-facing slopes and ridges. The American hop-hornbeam grows slowly and is difficult to transplant. It is therefore rarely planted as an ornamental.
As its name suggests, this species has the strongest wood of all native Canadian trees. Its wood is heavy, close-grained, hard and tough. Because of its wavy fibers, it is almost impossible to split. The sapwood (the wood under the bark) is pale yellow in colour, whereas the duramen (or heartwood) ranges from pale to dark brown.
The American hop-hornbeam has limited uses, owing to its small size and wide dispersion. Tool handles, wooden mallets and other such objects that need strength are made from this wood.
Leaves, alternate, simple and toothed.
Fruits, flat nutlets enclosed in a fine sac covered with stiff hairs, in clusters on short stem.