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 doesn't 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.


  1. We have several beeches on the farm -- the late bronze fall color is really nice.

  2. Janet,
    Used to have two beech trees at my former house. This is a good tree, I did not know about the long seed cycle.

  3. I love seeing the winter wind blow through beech trees with all the leaves pointing away from the wind. However, I am thankful I do not have to garden underneath of one.

  4. I know these well. I always test myself when walking my native area and noticed the tan leaves all along the forest area each time I walk. Beech trees though baby ones. There are big ones too. One has some initials carved in it that date to 1991! It is a big old tree and has such character. I like these trees. My sister actually grows beechnuts but none here in my garden.

  5. Janet, After sycamores this is my favorite tree...The hilly woods nearby are covered in saplings and they shimmer all winter with those brown leaves. Nice to know more of its history. gail

  6. We love beeches, and our young trees are doing quite well. You've characterized them nicely. Persistent winter leaves, smooth gray bark, and elongated winter leaf buds (not to mention the beech fruits and nuts) all spell beech!


  7. Janet, I appreciate your lessons on trees, although I am still very confused, only because I need to do actual hands-on work to really 'get it', I think! Also, it's not my 'favorite' topic (plants and flowers are!!) but of course, I want to know about trees and have actually started to take a bit of an interest since you've started writing about them. You mentioned Daniel Boone. I heard just today that Fess Parker died...now there's a real actor who will be remembered as the legend that his character was!

  8. Hi, Janet. Sorry I'm so slow in getting here, but I've been away all week. Hope your preparations for moving are going well.

    Beeches are trees I'm not familiar with at all, except I saw a beautiful variegated beech at a nursery near Chicago last year and fell in love with it. It looked similar to the last photo you showed--what a gorgeous specimen!

  9. you have taken some lovely photos

  10. Good tree pick! I like that description - tightly rolled cigars, that is exactly what they look like. We have a lot of good beeches here in zone 8, including a couple huge mature trees. I bought one which was labelled as a variety that would only get 25' tall but I'm suspicious that the tag was lying, since they all seem much larger than that. So far it's slow growing, so hopefully it really does stay on the small side.

  11. I have to agree with Les. The American Beech is not a great tree for the garden. They are super competitive and sucker a lot. I like the tricolor beech as it is pretty unusual. Needs a little shade to prevent leaf scorch but is always a point of interest for visitors.

  12. Hi Sweetbay, I love seeing the beeches in the wooded areas. Their color throughout the winter is wonderful.

    Hi Randy, I always learn something new with these tree posts.

    Hi Les, I like the beech in the woods. Just a fun tree to see in the winter.

    Hi Tina, It is nice to have some beech out in the native areas, but they do sucker and will form a colony.

    Hi Gail, Shimmer, great word for the characteristic of the leaves in the winter.

    Hi Lisa, I was hoping to find some beechnuts to include in my profile, but no luck. Thanks for your intro of them over a year ago.

    Hi Phillip, thanks

    Hi Jan, I can get overwhelmed with the trees as well. One tree at a time is all I can handle. Thanks for the info about Fess Parker..very sad.

    Hi Rose, I have been so far behind visiting folks. My name is probably mud with many of them. I do like the variegated Beech, but doesn't do well in the south.

    Hi Garden tips, thanks for visiting here! Appreciate your comments.

    Hi Megan, little cigars, how funny isn't it? Wonder if your tree will outgrow its 25 feet?

    Hi Chris, no, you and Les are correct, not a garden tree. I was amazed at how much root suckering there is on a beech. Your area would do very well with the TriColored Beech (European Beech)

  13. My mom has a tri-color Beech and I'm so envious of it! They're gorgeous! Thanks for the Beech lesson!

  14. Hi Kylee, I think the Tri-Colored Beech is really a stunning tree. I bet your mom's is wonderful. I think you need one. ;-D

  15. My son proposed to his wife by leading her blindfolded to a beech tree on our farm on which he had carved "Will you marry me?". She said "yes", and that was more than 11 1/2 years ago. We are in Mountville, not too far from the Queen of Seaford. Also, one of my dearest friends lived in Seaford, VA.

    1. Nice story, many lovers have carved initials into the beech tree's bark, I hadn't heard of a proposal being carved.
      Small world, who is your friend in Seaford?

    2. She was Eulalia Hunter (Mrs. William Frank Hunter). She is now deceased and buried here in Mountville. She and her husband retired to Mountville to a home that had been in Franks's family for generations. This is when I first met her. Later, after Frank died, she relocated to a house just two doors down from her doctor son in Seaford, VA on the Chesapeake Bay. She was a wonderful and fascinating lady from whom I learned much. What is the significance of "Seaford" in your moniker?

      I am Patricia Jacks Wham and am an avid gardener. I tried to sign my name, but couldn't get it to go through except as "anonymous".


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