American beech is a "strikingly handsome" tree with tight, smooth and skin-like light gray bark. This slick bark is so unique, it becomes a major identifier of the species. Also, look for the muscular roots which often remind one of creature legs and arms. Beech bark has suffered the carver's knife through the ages. From Virgil to Daniel Boone, men have marked territory and carved the tree's bark with their initials.
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is the only species of beech tree in North America. Before the glacial period, beech trees flourished over most of North America. The American beech is now confined to the eastern United States. The slow-growing beech tree is a common, deciduous tree that reaches its greatest size the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys and may attain ages of 300 to 400 years.
Beech mast is palatable to a large variety of birds and mammals, including mice, squirrels, chipmunks, black bear, deer, foxes, ruffed grouse, ducks, and bluejays. Beech is the only nut producer in the northern hardwood type. Beech wood is used for flooring, furniture, turned products and novelties, veneer, plywood, railroad ties, baskets, pulp, charcoal, and rough lumber. It is especially favored for fuelwood because of its high density and good burning qualities.
Creosote made from beech wood is used internally and externally as a medicine for various human and animal disorders. (It is important to note that coal tar creosote, the kind used to protect wood from rots, is highly toxic to humans.)
Forestryimages.org provides several images of parts of American beech. The tree is a hardwood and the lineal taxonomy is Magnoliopsida > Fagales > Fagaceae > Fagus grandifolia Ehrhart. American beech is also commonly called beech.
4. The Range of American Beech
American beech is found within an area from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia west to Maine, southern Quebec, southern Ontario, northern Michigan, and eastern Wisconsin; then south to southern Illinois, southeastern Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, southeastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas; east to northern Florida and northeast to southeastern South Carolina. A variety exists in the mountains of northeastern Mexico.
Leaf: Alternate, simple, elliptical to oblong-ovate, 2 1/2 to 5 1/2 inches long, pinnately-veined, 11-14 pairs of veins, with each vein ending in a sharp distinct tooth, shiny green above, very waxy and smooth, slightly paler below.
Twig: Very slender, zigzag, light brown in color; buds are long (3/4 inch), light brown, and slender, covered with overlapping scales (best described as "cigar-shaped"), widely divergent from the stems, almost looking like long thorns.
Thin bark renders American beech highly vulnerable to injury by fire. Postfire colonization is through root suckering. When fire is absent or of low frequency, beech frequently becomes a dominant species in mixed deciduous forests. The transition from an open fire-dominated forest to a closed canopy deciduous forest favors the beech-magnolia type in the southern portion of beech's range.