J.N. Strain Musclewood

Carpinus caroliniana ‘J.N. Strain’

Description & Overview

A Johnson’s Nursery origination; J.N. Plant Selections introduction, the JN Strain Musclewood is a fantastic small scale tree with a dense canopy! Improved fall color on our Wisconsin strain is mostly orange-red, some will be yellow. Its leaf and bark characteristics resemble a small beech tree with great fall color. Not hard to transplant. May also be known as JN Strain or JN Strain Musclewood.

Core Characteristics

Wisconsin Native: Regional Ecotype Nativar
Mature Height: 25-30 feet
Mature Spread: 25-30 feet
Growth Rate: Slow
Growth Form: Small stature tree, broadly oval dense canopy.
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Full Shade
Site Requirements: Adaptable to many soils, with best performance on rich wet-mesic sites. Tolerant of mildly alkaline soils.
Flower: Catkins, monoecious
Bloom Period: April-May
Foliage: Dark Green, Small Leaves
Fall Color: Orange-Red to Yellow
Fruit Notes: Nutlet, turning red-orange to brown at maturity. Heavy seed crops every 3-5 years.

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Suggested Uses:

The JN Strain Musclewood works well for screening, understory planting, as a specimen tree, and for heavy shade.

J.N. Strain Musclewood may be growing as single stem, multi-stem, and shrub form options.

Wildlife Value:

As a nativar, JN Strain Musclewood provides both food and habitat to wildlife in Wisconsin. The seeds, buds, and catkins are eaten by songbirds, grouse, pheasants, turkey, fox, and squirrel. The twigs and leaves may be consumed by rabbits and deer, although it is not a preferred species.

Maintenance Tips:

Like most deciduous trees, the JN Strain Musclewood should only be pruned during the dormant season after its leaves have dropped. However, its slow growth rate makes pruning unnecessary except to remove problem branches or dead wood.

Protect the easily damaged smooth-barked trunk from mechanical and animal damage over winter with a vinyl tree guard or mesh fencing.

J.N. Strain Musclewood in production. Seedbeds, seedlings to salable.

Salable 6- and 7-foot B&B J.N. Strain Musclewood coming fresh from spring harvest. Pictures taken late March.


Anthracnose, Botryosphaeria canker, and Nectria Canker are all known pathogens for Musclewood, but maintaining the health and vigor of the J.N. Strain Musclewood through proper mulching and watering makes these diseases less likely to impact the tree.

Leaf Lore:

The J.N. Strain Musclewood has been selected from the native musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) for its superb fall color and adaptation to Southeast Wisconsin’s heavier alkaline soils.

The Johnson’s Nursery strain of Musclewood has been developed over a 30 year period by selective seed picking. Only seed from orange-red fall colored individuals is used for propagation. By doing this, we have changed the percentage of seedlings in our beds with orange-red fall color from about 15% to 80% or better. Our strain has superior vigor when compared to other seedlings being sold in commerce.

Our plants have originated from several ecotypes, brought together in our nursery to eliminate the inbred nature of the population in the wild. Our strain has hybrid vigor.

Companion Plants:

Ironwood, Serviceberry, Elderberry, Viburnum