American Beech

Fagus grandifolia

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Illustration of American beech leaves and nuts.
American beech, Fagus grandifolia.
Paul Nelson
Family

Fagaceae (oaks)

Description

American beech is a medium to large tree up to 80 feet tall, with a long, smooth trunk supporting a wide, spreading crown.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 3–6 inches long, 1½–3 inches wide, thin with a papery texture, broadest at or below the middle, the margin coarsely toothed, the upper surface dull bluish green, shiny; lower surface yellow-green; persisting on younger trees through winter.

Bark is distinctive: light- to steel-gray, smooth.

Twigs are slender, somewhat zigzagged, green and hairy at first, later reddish brown or gray and smooth; buds slender, ¾–1 inch long, sharp pointed.

Flowers April–May. Male and female flowers are separate on the same twig. Male flowers in rounded clusters, about 1 inch across, hanging on stalks. Female flowers in pairs, on stout spikes about 1 inch long, usually on twig tips.

Fruit has burlike, prickly husk, ½–¾ inch long; nuts 2, edible.

Size

At maturity, to 80 feet tall.

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american beech
American Beech

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american beech
American Beech Tree
Habitat and conservation

The only beech native to the United States. Occurs naturally on lower slopes and ravines of Crowley’s Ridge, also in mesic (moist) woods of slopes, ravines, and small valleys bordering streams and spring branches in the river hills bordering the Mississippi River in southeastern Missouri. The wood has many uses, and this tree has been cultivated in America since 1800.

image of American Beech Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Restricted to well-drained, sandy soils in southeast Missouri, particularly Crowley’s Ridge and hills along the Mississippi.

Status

Not abundant in Missouri.

Human connections

The wood of this majestic, long-lived tree has had many uses: furniture, crates, flooring, tools, toys, and — since it does not give off a flavor or color — barrels for brewing beer (hence the slogan “beechwood aged” used to advertise Budweiser). There is a long history of medicinal uses, too.

Ecosystem connections

The fruit is eaten by songbirds, wild turkey, and mammals ranging from flying squirrels and other rodents to opossums and white-tailed deer. Huge trees serve wildlife even in death; their trunks become homes for woodpeckers and other cavity nesters, and for salamanders and others once they fall.