Common Hoptree Plant Profile

Grow the Golden Cultivar for Best Color

Common hoptree with samaras

ArtyAlison / Getty Images 

The common hoptree has been best known over the centuries for its medicinal uses. The bark of its roots has been used to fight bacteria, improve the appetite, and soothe mucous membranes. But most modern gardeners will be more interested in the fact that it draws butterflies. The species plant is not very showy apart from its clusters of rounded samaras, so seek the golden cultivar for better landscape color.

Botanical Name Ptelea trifoliata
Common Name Common hop tree, common hoptree, wafer ash, stinking ash
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size 15 to 20 feet tall and wide
Sun Exposure Partial shade to full shade
Soil Type Moderately dry, well-drained, and of average fertility
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time May and June
Flower Color Greenish-white
Hardiness Zones 4 to 9
Native Area Eastern and central United States

Origin of the Names

Ptelea is Greek for "elm tree," a nod to the resemblance the samara bears to that on elm trees (Ulmus spp.). Meanwhile, trifoliata refers to the three leaflets of the compound leaves.

The primary common name of "hoptree" comes from the use of the seeds as a substitute for hops (Humulus spp.) in making beer. This has been a common practice when hops has been unavailable, and the common hoptree is by no means the only plant used as an alternative to hops, other examples being:

The other common names for this tree allude presumably to the compound leaf, a feature the tree shares with ash trees (Fraxinus spp.). The name of "wafer ash" refers specifically to the wafer-like shape of the samaras. The name of "stinking ash" derives from the plant's smell: Some find that the flowers stink, and even more are put off by the smell of the leaves and bark when crushed.

How to Grow Common Hoptree

The common hoptree is easy to grow because it adapts to many different environments and shows tolerance for a number of challenging conditions. Follow the recommendations offered that indicate the ideal conditions for the plant, but realize that the common hoptree is more forgiving than many other trees.

Light

The common hoptree is an understory tree in the wild. So it is best suited to a shady spot in the landscape. But it will tolerate some sun if given enough water.

Soil

Providing soil that drains well is perhaps the most important requirement for the common hoptree.

Water

When grown in shade, the plant has below-average water needs. As always, though, a tree that you have just put in the ground should be pampered with sufficient water so that it has a chance to become established.

Fertilizer

This is another area in which the common hoptree is highly tolerant. It appreciates a dose of a balanced fertilizer each spring, but it is by no means dependent on it.

Features of Common Hoptree

The common hoptree stays short enough to be considered either a large shrub or a small tree. This plant is known for its rounded canopy, its winged fruit, and its dark green leaves, which become greenish-yellow in autumn. Each leaflet of the compound leaf is two and a half to five inches long and tapers to a point. The winged fruits are called "samaras," a plant feature most often associated with maple trees (Acer spp.).

The flowers are not a selling point for this plant. But the samaras that follow them are reasonably pretty and do hang around long enough to offer some visual interest during winter.

Landscape Uses for Common Hoptree

Its deciduous foliage is densely packed, making the common hoptree a good choice for use in informal privacy hedges during the summer and fall seasons. The species tree lacks any eye-popping feature at all, but the golden hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata 'Aurea') has enough color to serve as a specimen plant for the front yard. This cultivar has leaves that range in color from chartreuse to yellow to gold.

Family Ties for Common Hoptree

The common hoptree is a member of the Rutaceae family. This plant family is known familiarly as the "rue" or the "citrus" family. Other members of this group of plants include:

  • The herb, common rue (Ruta graveolens)
  • Mandarin oranges (Citrus reticulata)
  • Lemons (Citrus limon)