Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) come from the same family as oak trees. The tree features lots of low-lying branches, making it perfect for adding shade to the garden or landscape. In the fall, the tree puts forth a burst of color with leaves in shades of bronze or yellow. Even after many of the leaves fall off, enough linger on the tree well into winter to give the tree continued visual interest.
The deciduous tree grows up to 75 feet tall with a 60-foot spread and a trunk that can reach up to 3 feet in diameter. A few trees reach up to 120 feet in perfect growing conditions. According to Purdue University, one of the largest known beech specimens has a trunk diameter of 7.5 feet. The smooth, ash-gray bark resembles elephant skin on more mature trees. The tree sports glossy green leaves that reach up to 4 inches in length. The leaves turn shades of yellow and bronze in the fall before weathering to a light brown. The tree produces fruits consisting of four nuts growing on each spiny bur of the tree. The nuts grow to about 1 inch in size when ripe.
Beech trees can grow almost anywhere except in hot or dry regions. In the United States, the trees thrive around the country. The trees seem to grow most abundantly in the Great Lakes region as well as in central and southeastern United States. Groves of the trees also grow in parts of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri.
Beech trees grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8 where they prefer partial sun. The tree grows well in full sun or full shade, too. Beech trees prefer acidic soil that drains well, although they also grow in clay, sand or loam. The tree offers moderate drought tolerance because it grows a shallow root system. Newly planted trees need regular watering until they become established. According to the University of Florida, the trees grow best when transplanted from nursery stock because seedlings collected in the woods remain difficult to transplant. During hot weather or periods of drought, the tree benefits from supplemental watering.
Beech trees create lots of inviting shade once they mature. The large trees work well as hedges or in borders as wind or snow screens thanks to branches growing out near the bottom of the tree. The trees make beautiful specimen trees in the garden or landscape year-round, including the winter when their smooth, silvery bark really shows. People also enjoy eating the tasty nuts. The strong, hard wood from beech trees often gets used in making toys, furniture, cookware and barrels for aging beer.
Older, larger beech trees often become hollow, giving wildlife a great place for shelter and nesting. The thick branches help wildlife hide from predators and provide birds with nesting habitat. Birds and mammals, including squirrels and deer, prize the tiny nuts as an important food source.