An easy tree to identify
- Q. Which tree trunk in this photograph is an American beech?
- A. The American beech is the second large trunk from the right.
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) can be easily identified, even at a distance and even in winter, by its very smooth, silvery-gray bark. A strong second hint is the bleached-out, dead leaves still clinging on the tree in January.
Beeches grow throughout most of the eastern United States. Where you see one beech tree, you will often see several. The American beech is the only member of the beech family known to reproduce through root suckers. Root suckering of beeches is more common in the northern part of its range, where thickets of beech or many saplings clustered around a larger trunk may be seen.
Beechnuts are a valuable wildlife food. In American Wildlife and Plants, authors Martin, Zim, and Nelson list 17 species of waterfowl, game birds, and song birds that eat beechnuts. Animals that have been observed eating the nuts include black bears, deer, beavers, red and gray foxes, porcupines, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and of course, squirrels. Deer also browse the leaves and twigs.
Along the rural backroad of Todd County, Kentucky, where I photographed this beech, half a dozen beech trees grow within a hundred yard radius of this tree. This group of beeches grows on a northwest-facing, steep, fairly moist hillside above a small, narrow valley ("holler") where a creek flows. I think the location could be described as a "messic ravine."
In maturity, the American beech is a tall, broad tree -- up to 100 feet in height and 75 feet in width. Beeches are slow-growing trees that usually live 200-300 years, and they are strong-limbed trees that resist weather damage. The beech in the photo is probably several decades older than I am!