American Beech, Fagus grandifolia

The American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), is a species of beech native to eastern North America. It can be found from Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario in Canada, and Wisconsin south to eastern Texas and east to northern Florida in the United States. Trees in the southern half of its range are sometimes distinguished as a separate species. A related beech native to the mountains of central Mexico is sometimes treated as a subspecies of the American Beech, but is actually a separate species, Mexican Beech Fagus mexicana.

It is a deciduous tree growing to 65 to 115 feet tall, with smooth, silvery-gray bark. The leaves are dark green, simple and sparsely-toothed with small teeth, 2.5 to 4.75 inches long, with a short petiole. The winter twigs are distinctive among North American trees, being long and slender with two rows of overlapping scales on the buds. The tree is monoecious (flowers of both sexes on the same tree). The fruit is a small, sharply-angled nut, borne in pairs in a soft-spined, four-lobed husk.

The American Beech is a shade-tolerant species, favoring the shade more than other trees, commonly found in forests in the final stage of succession. Although sometimes found in pure stands, it is more often associated with Sugar Maple, Yellow Birch, and Eastern Hemlock, typically on moist well drained slopes and rich bottomlands. Near its southern limit, it often shares canopy dominance with Southern Magnolia.

American Beech is an important tree in forestry. The wood is heavy, hard, tough and strong, and, until the advent of the modern chainsaw, during lumbering beech trees were often left uncut. As a result, many areas today still have extensive groves of old beeches that would not naturally occur. Today, the wood is harvested for uses such as flooring, containers, furniture, handles and woodenware.

The American Beech also provides food for over numerous species of animals. Among vertebrates alone, these include ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, raccoons, red/gray foxes, white tail deer, rabbits, squirrels, opossums, pheasants, black bears, and porcupines. For lepidopteran caterpillars feeding on American Beech, see List of Lepidoptera which feed on Beeches.

Beech Bark Disease has become a major killer of Beeches in the Northeastern United States.

Photo Credit: Bruce Marlin