Plants of New Jersey # 7 American Beech

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American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) which is part of the Fagaceae family of plants.

American Beech grows along with Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) as part of the final stage of forest succession. It is a sure indicator that the forest you are in has not been disturbed in a long time if you see American Beech present.

The American Beech wetland indicator status is rated FACU. This means that while the tree is usually found in uplands it may be found in freshwater wetlands on occasion. The American Beech reaches heights of 80 feet though some individuals have been recorded as reaching as high as 120 feet!

Beech Drops

Beech Drops (Epifagus virginiana)

Few plants other than American Beech saplings can grow under the dense shade of the American Beech. An exception are Beech Drops (Epifagus virginiana) which is a parasitic plant that lives off of the roots of the tree.

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American Beech in Winter

American Beech is easy to recognize in the winter as it is one of the few deciduous trees to retain its leaves. The leaves that remain in the winter time turn to a light tan color as seen in the picture above.  Younger American Beech trees are more likely to retain their leaves than older trees. The old leaves fall off in the spring as the new leaves emerge.

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Carvings lead to the introduction of wood destroying fungi

American Beech’s smooth gray bark (it is one of the few trees to retain this smooth bark into maturity) makes it a temptation for people to carve messages into. Don’t. Doing so invites the introduction of diseases including beech bark disease among other woes to the tree.

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Black Bear Claw Mark on American Beech

One type of graffiti that is ok to see on American Beech is that of wildlife. The picture above shows an American Black Bear claw print on it. The black bear was probably climbing the tree to obtain beechnuts which are an important food source for wildlife including:

It is thought that one of the reasons the once abundant Passenger Pigeon went extinct is because of the mass clear cutting of the American Beech. Passenger Pigeons were heavily dependent on the beechnut.

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American Beech in the Fall

You likely will never find an American Beech growing in the urban environment. If you find a tree that looks like a beech in this environment you probably have found the European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) which handles the stress and pollution of the urban environment much better.

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7 thoughts on “Plants of New Jersey # 7 American Beech

  1. shoreacres

    There are beech trees in east Texas, although I’m not sure they’re native in my area. I was interested in the beech drops. There’s a native Texas terrestrial orchid that grows beneath beech trees (the cranefly orchid), although it’s quite uncommon and unpredictable in its behavior. I found some last year; I’m hoping to do so again this year, although I’ve not seen any evidence of them beneath the tree where I found them.

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      1. shoreacres

        No, the ones I’ve seen are American Beech. I know that for sure, because when I went on a native plant walk there, the leader identified them. They’re in the Big Thicket, aka Piney Woods, in far east Texas, almost to Louisiana — about 400 miles from South Texas! I’m in Galveston/Brazoria counties, which is more coastal prairie. The Big Thicket’s a whole different world: longleaf pine, bogs, seeps, pitcher plants, sundews.

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  2. WanderingCanadians

    I never really understood why people carve their names or other messages into trees. We have some beech trees here in Ontario, however, they are slowly succumbing to beech bark disease. And unfortunately there is no easy solution to stopping the disease. It’s too bad because beech trees are quite lovely.

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    1. NJUrbanForest Post author

      Same here! Carving into trees opens the trees up literally to a host of disease! That is a shame about the Beech Bark Disease. The diseased tree may continue to create shoots or clones of itself through its root system.

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  3. Pingback: Plants of New Jersey # 8 American Chestnut | NJUrbanForest.com

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