Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Tuesday's Trees- American Beech, Fagus grandifolia
Beech, birch, elm….when I started my knowledge of trees journey these confused me. I won't lie, some still do. I believe I can make the ID of Beeches, at least American Beeches.
I first noticed this tree last winter. If you look through the woods in my area, you see little ghost-like leaves of beige/tan hanging on throughout the winter. Along the Colonial Parkway there are many groves of beech, some very mature specimen surrounded by smaller ones. While reading Lisa's blog, Natural Gardening last year she did a post about American Beech. AHA!! The quest for more info begins…..
While talking to my friend David, asking about other trees and trying to make an ID in the Learning Garden he showed me how to tell an American Beech…one way. The leaf buds are like tightly wrapped cigars. Each and every Beech I looked at had this feature.
The leaves on the American Beech are oval, 3-5 inches and more than twice as long as they are wide. This is a contrast from the European Beech. Its leaves are 2-4 inches and not even twice as long as they are wide. The toothed margins are also different. American has more conspicuous serrated margins. The American Beech leaves emerge in the spring and the lovely little ghostly leaves drop. Twig growth is a zigzag pattern and at each node there is a bud. Fall color is yellow turning finally to the light tan color throughout the winter. This tree can be found mostly in moist soil conditions, bottom lands and wetland areas.
The bark on this tree is smooth, older trees may have been scarred by young lovers carving their initials into its bark. One story of an old old Beech is that of Daniel Boone carving his initials and his claim of killing a bear on that spot. The Filson Historical Society of Louisville now has this trunk, according to Wikipedia.
According to Silvics Manual, my favorite reference online for native trees, while the average age is ranges from 150- 250 years there are trees found in Pennsylvania older than 366 years. One of the largest beeches is found in Michigan – 161 ft. tall and a crown of 105 ft. The average size is 60- 80 feet tall and a trunk diameter of about 2-3 feet.
Fruit and flowers- male and female flowers occur on the same tree but in separate clusters. The male flower is long stemmed and female flowers occur in clusters of two to four. Interestingly the Beechnuts take an entire year to mature and ripen in the fall. A Beech does even produce until it is fully mature, having a good production finally around 40 years of age. Seed production goes in 2- 8 year intervals. A chilling period is required for a Beechnut to germinate. The seedlings develop best under a canopy or a protected area.
The fruit is a great food source for many birds and animals in the woods. Beech wood is used in many applications- from furniture to railroad ties. It is a dense wood and therefore is a good fuelwood. Thin strips are used as veneers or in basket making.
Because of the thin bark the Beech can have problems with many sucking insects. Beech is not top of the list for white-tailed deer---nibbling it only if other food is not available. Far more information is available at the Silvics Manual link and for some good photos of the flowers and the nuts see the Virginia Tech or Wildflower web site or the UCONN site. I am including a picture of a Tri-Colored Beech- a European Beech, Fagus Sylvatica 'Roseo-Marginata'. It is zone 4- 7 and therefore not likely to be found here in zone 7b. This was taken on the campus of George Mason University in Northern Virginia. Notice the more rounded nature of the leaves. This picture was an ID challenge from one of the kids.
Next week's tree- Red Maple
words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.