American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a large deciduous tree with a spreading, crown and short trunk. Leaves are pointed, toothed and have many straight parallel veins. In contrast to the European or common beech (Fagus sylvatica),, which has less than 10 pairs of veins, the American beech leaf exhibits 11 to 15 pairs of veins. Fall color is golden yellow and often retains pale straw-colored leaves through winter. Twigs are slender and zigzag with strikingly slender pointed buds. Bark is gray, smooth and often defaced with carvings, but never ridged or scaly. Fruit is a 4-part husk with hooked prickles and open at maturity to reveal small nuts. The nuts are an important source of food for many forest animals. The root system is shallow and extensive, often producing suckers from the spread roots, crowding out nearby trees. Beech trees are very shade tolerant and like the sugar maple and hemlock are found in climax forests. This tree may live for 300 to 400 years. Native to eastern North America and northeastern Mexico, American beech has long been cultivated but is less tolerate of urban settings compared to the European beech. The pale beech wood is used to make furniture, particularly chairs.
Common name: American Beech
Scientific Name (family and order): Fagus grandifolia (Fagaceae, Fagales)
Species Origin: New Brunswick to Ontario south to Florida and Texas. Introduced to Europe in 1766in 1800.
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: 50 – 70’ tall; its spread is equal to or less than its height. Short trunk and wide spreading crown. May sucker and form wide-ranging colonies, especially in native stands. Because of its suckering tendency it regenerates easily after cutting down or damage.
Habitat: Zone 4 – 9; grows in rich well-drained soils in deciduous forests. Pure stands in climax forests.
Trunk/Stem: Bark characteristically smooth and gray; similar on young and mature trees though in the latter its color may be darker. Lenticel are warty. Lichen growth on the bark is rare.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Alternate. Buds characteristically very slender and pointed. Ovate-oblong, 2 -5” long and ¾-2 ½ “ wide; acuminate, broad-cuneate base, coarsely serrate (forward pointing teeth). adaxial glossy dark tree; abaxial light green glabrous with tufts of hair within axils of veins along midrib. More veins than F. silvatica, 11 -15 pairs. Petiole ¼” or longer. Like its cousin species, the oaks, it often holds some leaves during the winter.
Flowers: Monoecious. Flowers lack petals, male and female flowers on separate sites of same tree. Staminate (male) flowers are pendulous and held in globose heads; pistillate flowers are held in a 2 -4 flowered spike.
Fruits and seeds: The fruit is a 4-part husk with hooked prickles, ¾” long. The husk opens at maturity to reaveal 1 – 3 small nuts. The nut is edible.