American Beech – July 2013 Tree of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

One of our most beautiful and majestic native trees is the American Beech, Fagus grandifolia. 

This deciduous tree is native to USDA Zones 3 to 9 and ranges in Eastern North America from New Brunswick to Ontario, Canada and south to Florida and Texas. It grows, slowly, to an average height of 50’ to 70’, but may reach 100’ to 120’ in ideal conditions. The canopy spread is usually equal to the height but, in crowded conditions, it will become upright and  less than the height. The lower branches generally touch the ground.

The bark is smooth, thin, and light grey; it looks silvery on young stems. The leaves are silvery green when very young and mature to a deep green becoming golden bronze in the fall. The leaves are usually not shed until mid-to late winter.

The leaves are 2 to 5” long and up to 2 ½ “ wide, dark glossy green above, light green below, and lightly toothed. There are 9-14 pairs of veins, and the stems, or petioles, are a bit zig-zagged.

American Beech requires moist but well-drained, acid soil, and will not tolerate compacted, wet soils. The roots are shallow, which means that grass will not grow beneath this tree. It does best in full sun but it grows well in shade also, as evidenced by the success of specimens in woody areas. The wide crown, with its beautiful outline, requires the ample room of parks, golf courses, and large lawn areas.

The flowers, which bloom in April and May, are not showy. The edible nut, ripening in October and November, is a prickly and small nut about ¾” long. It is a favorite food of blue jays, woodpeckers, turkeys, nuthatches, titmice, raccoons, foxes, deer, bears, rabbits and squirrels. In the past the nuts were fed to pigs. The sweet nuts were once used as cooking oils and as a coffee substitute. The young leaves are said to have been used as an herb, and during famines the inner bark was used for bread-making. Medicinally, years ago, the leaves were boiled into a concoction used as a poultice to treat frostbite, burns, and poison ivy. The nuts were used as a vermifuge, to rid the body of worms, and the bark tea was used to treat lung ailments.

The wood is heavy and hard and before the use of chain saws, beech trees were not cut down in lumbering; therefore, many areas still have old beech stands. Today the wood is used for woodenware, furniture and flooring.

Insects and diseases include powdery mildew, cankers, leaf spots, aphids, caterpillars, borers and scale but these pests reportedly are not serious.

American beech does not have any ornamental varieties

The Ewing Environmental Commission ( welcomes suggestions for the Tree of the Month from all Ewing residents.