American Beech

Fagus grandifolia

The beech's thin, smooth, light gray bark is distinctive, as are the long, slender, pale chestnut-brown buds readily visible during the winter. Its root system shallow and widely spreading, beech often forms thickets or colonies by suckering from roots of the central oldest tree. When shaded in a forest stand, it forms a long, straight, massive trunk that rises up into a small, dense crown (that's how it grows in Alper Preserve). Ovate to elliptic dark green leaves have coarse, widely spaced marginal teeth and prominent parallel veins, each vein ending at the tip of a marginal tooth. Foliage turns golden bronze in fall. American beech is winter deciduous. Its dry leaves often remain on branches until new foliage is ready to emerge in spring. Flowering takes place simultaneously with unrolling of leaves. Inflorescences are unisexual, both sexes found on the same tree. Female flowers give way to pairs of triangular nuts enclosed in spiny bracts. Beech nuts are edible. Birds and mammals, including deer, bear, squirrel, grouse, and turkey, feed on the nuts. Hollows in beech trees provide shelter for many animals. The slow-growing, tough, strong wood is used for flooring, furniture, and wooden ware. Because of its thin bark and shallow root system, American beech is very susceptible to damage from forest fires. That's why beeches are uncommon in the fire-prone pine barrens zone. Older trees are often damaged and weakened by fungal infestations.

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Beech: bark, exquisite buds, and overwintering dry leaves. December 31

An old snag that gave birth to a beech grove, Halfway Pond Island, Plymouth

Beech male (staminate) flowers, mid-May

Empty bracts collected in May (nuts taken by animals)