When the early settlers came to America, they quickly recognized the beech tree, as this species had a very similar cousin that grew in Europe. American beech has many qualities that make it a valuable resource in the wild and a choice ornamental tree. The American beech, like the European version, has one feature in particular that makes it simple to distinguish from the rest of the trees in the forest.
In a woodland setting, the trunks and barks of many trees look alike, with rough, scaly or plated bark being the norm. However, the American beech has smooth, pale grayish bark, even when the tree matures to old age. This sets it apart from most species but also makes the beech a target of those wishing to carve names and/or graffiti in a tree, which defaces the specimen for decades. In Europe, the early Saxons and German peoples used European beech boards to write upon, according to the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees."
One of the assets of an American beech is the nuts, called beechnuts, which wildlife and humans may consume. The nuts, which are pyramidal in shape and develop by autumn inside a prickly case that is about 3/4 inch long, are oily and shiny brown color. Animals such as the opossum, gray squirrel, whitetail deer, chipmunk, red fox, field mouse and even the black bear eat these with abandon. Birds like the blue jay and ruffed grouse also feast on the nuts.
In the open, an American beech will not grow as tall and upright as in a forest setting. In the woods, the beech springs up to heights of 80 feet, but if beeches planted by themselves will develop many large branches and attain a height of about 40 feet, spreading widely in the crown. Beech trees can have trunk diameters as wide as 3 feet. The leaves, which are oval and have serrations along the edges that curve inward, turn a golden color in autumn before going to tan; many stay on the tree over the winter---another feature that makes a beech easy to identify.
Root suckering is common among American beech trees, creating small colonies of seedlings beneath a larger specimen. The seedlings develop from the roots, taking on a form that the Floridata website describes as "untidy." It is important for the overall health of your beech tree to remove these suckers simply by cutting them off and refraining from using herbicides on them, as this could be detrimental to the tree's well-being.
When considering an American beech as a landscaping tree, take into account that few plants have the ability to grow underneath them. The reason is two-fold, according to the Blue Planet Biomes website. One is that the root system is very shallow, absorbing most of the moisture from right under the tree close to the surface. The other is that an American beech tree's dense foliage allows very little light to reach the area under the branches, making it difficult at best for anything to thrive.