American Beech

– Posted in: Native/Invasive
12 comments

These leaves were my downfall, almost literally. Photo (c) Talitha Purdy

These leaves were my downfall, almost literally. Photo (c) Talitha Purdy

You just never know when you’re going to run into a teachable moment. I mentioned on Twitter that I had hurt my back sliding downhill on newly fallen beech leaves, and someone from the South remarked that they had never seen a beech tree. Well! It’s time you were acquainted.

The American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is “one of the grandest, most majestic of our eastern trees” in the opinion of William Cullina, author of Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines. It has smooth gray bark that is perfect for carving names in. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Davy Crockett Daniel Boone carved his name on a beech tree.

We seem to have a lot of beech trees growing on our hillside, but after reading that they “form a tangle of root suckers” (Cullina) I wonder if I really looked, I would see that we actually have a few beech trees with a lot of maturing suckers, forming a grove. Their seeds are called beechnuts, which many different kinds of animals eat, including Homo sapiens, who uses it as a flavoring for chewing gum.

It is easy to recognize beech seedlings in the winter, for they hold onto their leaves until, uh, right about now.

The beech saplings, pictured here in January, still have not dropped their leaves in mid-April. Photo (c) Talitha Purdy

The beech saplings, pictured here in January, still have not dropped their leaves in mid-April. Photo (c) Talitha Purdy

Yesterday I was walking downhill in the woods on a path that was blanketed with dry, papery beech leaves. I slid and slipped on them more than once, always recovering my balance but apparently straining my back from the contortions I went through to stay upright. A good soak in a hot tub has already helped, and I expect to be fully recovered in a day or two.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

. . . the difference between great daffodils and common ones is not so vast as one thinks in the first flush of excitement when one starts being serious about daffodils.

~Henry Mitchell in The Essential Earthman: Henry Mitchell on Gardening

11 Comments… add one

Erin May 15, 2009, 3:31 pm

Yikes … careful around those leaves! I just recently learned that in our part of the country beech trees will only flourish in the right microclimates, and thanks to Lake Michigan, that happens to be in my yard. Our mature beeches are my favorite trees by far. I was hoping to start some from shoots, but everything I’ve read says that it’s very difficult to propagate beech trees. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Erin’s last blog post..Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day

frank@nycgarden May 12, 2009, 9:51 pm

I’m sorry, but I think its Daniel Boone, not Davy Crockett, carved into the beech.

frank@nycgarden’s last blog post..Another Successful Giveaway

Kathy Purdy May 12, 2009, 10:53 pm

Good catch! I stand corrected, and I updated the post.

Jenn May 4, 2009, 10:06 pm

How’s that old thumb injury these days?

Kathy Purdy May 9, 2009, 9:40 pm

As long as I don’t overdo, it doesn’t trouble me. If it does trouble me, I think about what I’m doing wrong (usually gripping the mouse too hard) and try to take a break from it.

donna May 4, 2009, 8:15 pm

Hope you’ve recovered from all that slipping and sliding on the beech trees. We had lots and lots of beech trees when we lived at the lake in northern Wisconsin and in the fall the crows would gather in the tree tops to eat the beechnuts and leave a big mess of shells on the driveway. I loved hearing them up there chomping away. And that beautiful smooth gray bark is perfect for carving your name, even if you’re not Davy Crockett (I didn’t know that fact). Always learn something here. Interesting, too, about no more frost after they shed the old leaves.

donna’s last blog post..Garden Bloggers’ Muse Day – May 1

Mr. McGregor's Daughter May 4, 2009, 6:09 pm

Your efforts to maintain your balance remind me of walking on icy sidewalks at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana one year. I managed to preserve my dignity at the cost of back pain. I wonder if it was worth it.
American Beeches aren’t as widely grown as the European ones, although they both have the habit of hanging on to their leaves. They make a lovely grove.

Mr. McGregor’s Daughter’s last blog post..Beauty & the Barrel

commonweeder May 4, 2009, 3:20 pm

Kathy, We have a lot of beech trees in our area. I love the way the beautiful new leaves push the old ones off when their day has come. I haven’t posted them yet, but I was just taking photos of the tender new leaves.

commonweeder’s last blog post..Monday Record May 4

entangled May 4, 2009, 12:42 pm

Ouch! Hope you heal soon!

I read a bit of folklore last year about beech leaves. It is said that when they finally shed their old (hazardous) leaves in the spring, there will be no more frosts.

Kathy Purdy May 4, 2009, 12:56 pm

If we don’t have any more frosts this spring, that would be pretty amazing. I’ll have to track this bit of phenology to see if it’s true for us.

William Behling June 6, 2009, 11:09 pm

Where I live the local indians beleive that when the Oak (Quercus Gambelii) trees start to bud than it will no longer freeze, and is time to plant corn.

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