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FAGUS grandifolia

Image of Fagus grandifolia

Gerald L. Klingaman

Family

Fagaceae

Botanical Name

FAGUS grandifolia

Plant Common Name

American Beech

General Description

The American beech is one of the most distinctive and beautiful of the North American hardwood trees. It is a large, deciduous tree best known for its smooth, gray, elephantine bark that people can’t resist carving their initials into (sadly). When mature, it develops a shallow, spreading root system and broad canopy. Both are so dense it is difficult to successfully grow shade-loving annuals and perennials beneath. Native populations inhabit forests across the eastern half of North America, from Nova Scotia to Texas. The largest specimens on record exist in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys but populations are also common at higher elevations—particularly in the Appalachian Mountains.

Beech leaves are simple and oblong with fine teeth and even, straight leaf veins. They are glossy when they first unfurl in spring and in fall turn warm hues of russet tan and gold. The dry foliage usually persists on the lower branches into winter. This species is monoecious, which means each tree bears separate male and female flowers. The pollen-producing male flowers are small, greenish tan, pendulous and produced in clusters of one or two. The slightly spiny female flowers come in clusters of two or four and develop into beechnuts by fall. The seeds within the nuts are sweet, edible and valuable to wildlife.

This beech grows well in full sun to partial shade and withstands many soil types as long as they are fertile and moist with average to good drainage. It does not grow well in containers and transplants poorly, so plant when small. Extreme soil compaction at the rootzone will slowly diminish and kill this tree, so be sure it's not planted where cars drive or pedestrians regularly tread. Though relatively slow-growing, the American beech is very long-lived and very desirable when mature. Plant it in large lawns, parks and natural areas where it can grow and thrive as a noble specimen for years to come.

The American beech is the larval food source for the early hairstreak butterfly (Erora laeta). Native Americans have long valued its nuts for food and bark and leaves for medicinal purposes.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    9 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    4 - 9

  • Sunset Zone

    1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun

  • Height

    70'-80' / 21.3m - 24.4m

  • Width

    60'-80' / 18.3m - 24.4m

  • Bloom Time

    Spring

  • Native To

    North America, United States, Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, South-Central United States, Texas, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Average

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate

    Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Insignificant

  • Flower Color

    Yellow Green, Tan

  • Fruit Color

    Sandy Brown

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Gold, Tan, Sandy Brown

  • Bark Color

    Gray, Silver

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    Yes

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Glossy

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    Yes

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Shade Trees

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes