Crooked Run Valley
American beech (Fagus grandifolia)
SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no scientific synonyms for
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of American beech
is Fagus grandifolia (Ehrh.) Little. Some authorities hold that the southern
beeches vary and describe the southern form as Fagus grandifolia var.
caroliniana (Loud) Fernald & Rehder . The variety Fagus grandifolia var.
mexicana (Martinez) is found in Mexico.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Beech is a large,
native, deciduous tree. It normally grows 65 to 80 feet (20-25 m) tall
but can can grow up to 130 feet (40 m) and can live to over 300 years
old. The bark is blue gray. The leaves are yellow green during the growing
season. The branches are stout and horizontal, or ascending, with
interlocking leaves forming a dense crown. The root system is shallow
and spreading. The fruit is a bur, usually containing two nuts.
REGENERATION PROCESSES: Sexual reproduction: Beech begin
producing seed when 40 years old and by 60 years old may produce
large quantities. Beech produces seed at 2- to 8-year intervals. Most
seeds drop to the ground. A few are carried by rodents but dispersal is
limited. Bluejays may transport seeds several kilometers. Most of the
seeds will germinate in the 1st year; after that, the seeds lose viability.
Beech seeds germinate from early spring to early summer. Chilling is
required to break dormancy. Germination is good on mineral soil or leafy
litter, but poor on excessively wet sites. Seedlings grow best under a
moderate canopy or in protected small openings where the soil does not
dry out below the depth of the shallow roots.
Beech can regenerate by root suckers or by stump sprouts. Sprouts may
develop on the trunk of a tree immediately below a wound and from the
top of stumps. Sprouts can also develop from the exposure of the roots to
air or elevated temperatures. Sometimes root sprouts develop when no
apparent injury has occurred. The advance of beech bark disease, with its
resultant mortality of overstory beech stems, is likely to result in an
increase in root suckering. Beech is more likely to develop by sprouting
than by seedling establishment.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Beech is found at low elevations in the
North and relatively high elevations in the South. Local soil and climatic
factors probably determine whether beech grows at the higher elevations.
In the Adirondack Mountains, low temperatures and wind keep beech
below 3,200 feet (975 m) in contrast to the Appalachian Mountains where
on the warmer slopes it grows at elevations up to 6,000 (1,830 m) feet. At
altitudes in the middle of its range, beech is more abundant on the cooler,
moister, northern slopes than on the southern slopes. Beech populations
are higher on coarse textured, dry to mesic soils in the northern part of its
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: American beech is a climax species that
grows slowly underneath an overstory of conifers or hardwoods. Beech
grows faster in canopy openings and eventually ascends into the overstory.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Flowering occurs from March to May.
Fruiting occurs from September to October. Seeds are released in October
or November after frost.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: American beech is distributed from
Cape Brenton Island, Nova Scotia west to Maine, southern Quebec,
southern Ontario, northern Michigan, and eastern Wisconsin; south to
southern Illinois, southeastern Missouri, northwestern Arkansas,
southeastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas; east to northern Florida;
and northeast to southeastern South Carolina. An isolated variety (var.
mexicana) occurs in the mountains of northeastern Mexico.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: American beech is
either a dominant or codominant species in the northern hardwoods of the
Northeast, Great Lake States, and the Appalachian Mountains. Common
associates include sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple (Acer rubrum),
yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), American basswood (Tilia americana),
black cherry (Prunus serotina), southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora),
eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), red spruce (Picea rubens), hickories
(Carya spp.), and oaks (Quercus spp.).
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Beech mast is eaten by a variety of birds
and mammals, including mice, squirrels, chipmunks, black bear, deer, foxes,
ruffed grouse, ducks, and bluejays.
Beech is regarded as a poor deer browse. The frequency of its use in some
areas is due to the low availability of more preferable browse.
American beech provides cover for the Carolina chickadee (Parus
carolinensis) and the black-capped chickadee (Parus atricapillus).
Beech grows relatively slowly and has a low tolerance to fire. Its value as a
colonizer is limited.
Beech wood is used to make flooring, furniture, veneer plywood, and
railroad ties. It is especially favored as fuel wood because of its high
density and good burning qualities. Coal tar made from beech wood is
used to protect wood from rotting. The creosote made from beech wood
is used to treat various human and animal disorders.
Beechnuts are roasted and eaten or used a coffee substitute. The leaves
and bark are used to make dyes.