One of the largest growing trees found throughout Maryland and temperate parts of Europe, Asia, and North America is the beech tree. The American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a slow growing, long lived tree that develops a very large spreading crown and has foliage so dense that not much grows underneath them. Beech trees can live upwards of 300 – 400 years, and grow to a height of 100 feet or greater. Open grown beech can have a large crown spread, often as wide as they are tall.
The most recognizable characteristic of a beech tree is the blue-gray bark that stays smooth no matter how old the tree becomes. This smooth bark must be inviting, since most trees have initials carved into them. Beech leaves are somewhat elliptical, and they have very distinct veins. Beech often hold their brown leaves throughout the winter, which makes for easy identification during the dormant season. Another characteristic of this tree is its long and pointy winter buds. Beech produce triangular shaped nuts in a spiny husk. These nuts are edible, but somewhat bitter. Beech nuts can germinate in the shade, and young beech trees can develop well in the understory without much sunlight. These slow growing, very “shade tolerant” trees eventually make their way into the main canopy in old growth forests, along with other shade tolerant trees like sugar and red maple.
The beech-maple forest community is known as a “climax forest community” in many parts of the north east, since these forests will not change much unless they experience profound disturbances. Beech makes good firewood— it burns hot and long, but rots easily if not stored properly. This species does not compartmentalize rot well, so many large beech trees have hollow areas. The wood is strong and resistant to denting, so it is used in furniture and flooring. Beech wood and extracts are used in the beer making process, usually for German beers, and also used to cure hams, sausage, and some cheeses. The Copper Beech is a popular cultivar of the European Beech that is used in many landscapes. This tree is relatively pest-free, although it does not tolerate a lot of air pollution, and it is hard to grow anything below its dense foliage.
Article by FCFCDB member
Nature Note for 10/21/2018