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Eastern Shore Food Lab

Fagus grandifolia - American Beech

The American Beech is a beautiful hardwood tree, that glows golden in the fall. Its spiky brown nuts are a tell-tale sign that you have found it. Another distinguishing characteristic is its extremely smooth grey bark that keeps carvings and engraving on it for the duration of the trees life.

Scientific Name:  Fagus grandifolia
Common Name: American Beech, beechnut
Plant Family:  Fagaceae

Etymology: Grandfolia =Large Leaved, Fagus= Edible = Large Edible Leaf

Edible Parts

The fruit of the tree called the beechnut is edible when ripe. Additionally, young leaves can be used as a green.

Historic Uses

Early settlers gathered many beech nuts to extract the oil, which is similar to olive oil and was used as both food and lamp oil. Native American tribes had many uses for the American beech. For example, the Iroquois used it on the hair with bear grease, when the skin became too thin, and as a compound decoction for yellow skin. Additional uses were as a tuberculosis remedy, the nuts were used in a beverage, and mixed into into cake and bread. They also used it in corn soup and pounded the nuts into an oil. The Malecite used it for sores and to make snowshoe frames.

Habitat

American beech occurs in moist or wet lowland sites. Commonly occurs in hardwood forests with sugar maple. Nuts frequently attract wildlife.

How to Identify

The American Beech is recognizable by its smooth grey bark, and its dark green simple-veined leaves 3-6” in size that turn gold during the fall. Its nuts are brown, triangular, hard/spiky and 1/2-1” in size. Leaf buds are over 1 inch long, sharply pointed and smooth.

Additional Information

American beech is the tree most associated with the extinct passenger pigeon, which fed on its nuts and roosted in its branches. Daniel Boone was said to have carved his name into a tree between Blountsville and Jonesboro, Tennessee.

Planting Considerations

The roots of the American Beech are shallow, making it unsuitable to plant grasses under and is difficult to grow other plants under. American beech is susceptible to beech scale. It does not transplant well but is long lived. If pruning, prune in summer or early fall.

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4-9
  • Native Range: Eastern United States
  • Forest Garden Layer: Canopy
  • Permaculture functions: Shade, fruit, and fiber
  • Soil moisture: Moist but well drained soil
  • Soil texture: Loam and clay soils
  • Height: 50-120 feet
  • Spread: 40 feet
  • Growth rate: 12’-24’ a year
  • Sun: Full Sun to partial shade
  • Bloom: April, May
  • Attracts: Birds and Butterflies
  • Tolerates: Salt
  • Drawbacks: Drought sensitive

Sources

On the Web

Wildflower.org

Morton Arboretum