The Noblest Tree

Michael Dirr describes the American beech (Fagus grandifolia) as “a sturdy, imposing tree often with a short trunk and wide-spreading crown, a picture of character.”
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Anyone who has been fortunate enough to spend time in beech forest can attest to the awe-inspiring nature of this tree. American beech is native to eastern North America, growing from New Brunswick to Ontario and south to Florida and Texas. It is a climax species, and may be the predominant species in a forest, or mixed with oaks, hickories, and/or hemlocks. In the wild, American beech often forms dense colonies by suckering up from its shallow roots. Beechnuts are important mast for wildlife, including fox, deer, squirrels, blue jays, titmice, grosbeaks, nuthatches, turkeys, ducks and woodpeckers.

Its handsome, smooth, silvery-gray bark is very distinctive and makes the tree as striking in winter as it is in full leaf. The new growth emerges silvery-green in spring, hardening off to dark green through the summer. The coarsely serrate leaves turn a golden bronze in fall, and often persist through the winter, especially on young trees and the lower portion of larger ones. American beech has an upright-oval to rounded-spreading crown, and grows 50-80 feet tall with a similar spread.

It grows best in full sun and moist, well-drained, slightly acidic (pH 5.0-6.5) soil, but as its range suggests, it is relatively adaptable to soil types as long as drainage is good. It is also surprisingly shade tolerant. American beech has a reputation for being difficult to transplant, but advances in growing trees in containers has made that less of an issue. They are slow growing, especially when first planted, but make reasonable growth once established.

This is a tree that needs space, so American beech should be used for large properties, parks, university and corporate campuses, and golf courses. Plant as a specimen, or in groves or allées.