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American Beech Fagus grandifolia


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American Beech, habit and bark
credit: IvoShandor/CCSA

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Family: Fagaceae, Beech view all from this family

Description Fagus grandifolia, also known as American Beech or North american beech, is a species of beech native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario in southeastern Canada, west to Wisconsin and south to eastern Texas and northern Florida in the United States. Trees in the southern half of the range are sometimes distinguished as a variety, F. grandifolia var. caroliniana, but this is not considered distinct in the Flora of North America. A related beech native to the mountains of central Mexico is sometimes treated as a subspecies of American Beech, but more often as a distinct species, Mexican Beech Fagus mexicana.

It is a deciduous tree growing to 20–35 m (66–115 ft) tall, with smooth, silver-gray bark. The leaves are dark green, simple and sparsely-toothed with small teeth, 6–12 cm (2.4–4.7 in) long (rarely 15 centimetres (5.9 in)), with a short petiole. The winter twigs are distinctive among North American trees, being long and slender (15–20 mm (0.59–0.79 in) by 2–3 mm (0.079–0.12 in)) with two rows of overlapping scales on the buds. The tree is monoecious, with 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 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 (forming the Beech-Maple climax community), 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.

Comments Beech develops suckers from its vast system of surface roots. Entire beech groves have often grown from the roots of a single tree. Shade tolerant. Long-lived. Not suitable for small areas. Resistant to many pests and diseases, though a bark fungus disease has proven fatal. Prune in summer or early fall. Root system is shallow, so it is difficult to grow grasses under beech. Beech is highly phototropic, meaning it leans markedly toward the strongest light. Extremely susceptible to root zone disturbance and drought.

Exposure Preference Partial sun to shade.

Native Distribution Florida to e. Texas, n. to s.e. Massachusetts, s. Ohio, s. Illinois, Indiana & Missouri

Site Preference Moist or wet, lowland sites

Soil Preference Moist, rich, well-drained soils.

Wildlife Value Beech nuts are eaten by many forms of wildlife.