American beech
Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.
  • LEAVES: alternate, simple, deciduous (though juvenile branches retain dead leaves); blades elliptic, margins serrate, lateral veins prominent
  • FLOWER: imperfect, plants monoecious; male flowers in globular ball-like catkins to nearly 1” broad which can be abundant on the ground in spring just after flowering; female flowers born singly or in pairs atop thick short silky-hairy stalks, the flowers surrounded by subulate bracts, the innermost giving rise the prickly cupule enclosing fruits
  • FRUIT: 3-edged nut, unevenly triangular, 1-3 contained in the spiny burr-like cupule less than 1” long. Good seed crops occur every 2 to 3 years, but locally may have many empty seed
  • TWIGS: slender, zigzag, gray; terminal buds 3/4 to 1 inch, very pointed, “cigar-shaped”, lustrous brown; stipule scars nearly circle twig
  • BARK: smooth, light gray, sometimes mottled, does not change much with age or bole size; lichens often give rough appearance; popular tree for carving initials
  • FORM: large deciduous tree
  • HABITAT: in our region, rich mesic well-drained forests, such as mesic flatwoods, hardwood slope forests, southern mesophytic forest, and mixed loblolly pine-hardwood forests
  • WETLAND DESIGNATION: Facultative Upland (FACU): Usually occurs in non-wetlands, but may occur in wetlands of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast Plain Region
  • RANGE: eastern US, Ontario to Nova Scotia   [MAP]
  • USES: not commercially used in southeast US due to heart rot; further north an important timber tree for cooperage, furniture, cabinets, trim; fruit historically consumed by humans, eaten whole, ground into flour, used as a coffee substitute, nuts pressed for oil; various folk medicinal uses
  • WILDLIFE: nuts are important food for squirrels and other small mammals, turkey, wood ducks; browsed by deer but at low levels; deer eat nuts in fall and winter
  • Best Recognition Features:
    1. smooth gray bark (often with initials carved in it)
    2. zigzag twigs with large lustrous brown cigar-shaped buds
    3. smooth elliptic leaves with prominent lateral veins
    4. triangular nuts enclosed in a spiny bur (cupule)