The beech tree is a common species in the eastern forests of North America in which it occurs. Identifying this species of hardwood, a close relative to the oak, is not a difficult task if you can recognize some of the tree's characteristics, including its size, bark and nuts. The distinct size, shape and colors of the beech leaves make it simple to recognize them as well.
Look for the tree in the forest that has the smoothest bark on mature specimens. While many trees have smooth bark when young, few display the consistent texture of bark that the older beech tree does. Beech trees that are hundreds of years old have a steel-gray, smooth surface.
Estimate the size of the mature beech, looking for specimens that can be as tall as 80 feet, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Full-grown beech trees will have a canopy spread in the range of 70 feet, with some surpassing that, especially if they grow out in an open area.
Study the area beneath a beech tree in fall, and look on the branches for the ripening beechnuts in summer. These nuts develop within a spiny husk, growing inside the light-brown, prickly compartment in twos and threes. The University of Connecticut Plant Database describes the shape of beechnuts as three-winged. The husks will split apart late in the summer---and no later than early autumn---allowing the fruit to drop to the ground where many animals, including deer, devour them.
Measure the size of the beech leaves, looking for elliptical foliage possessing a pointed tip that grows between 2-and-1/2 and 5 inches long. Beech leaves will be from 1 to 3 inches wide, states the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees." The leaves have darker green shades on top, but the undersides will be pale green.
Examine the edges of the beech leaves, looking for undulating edges that feature coarse teeth. The teeth of the beech leaves are what botanists call "sawtoothed," with edges reminiscent of the common carpenter's tool.
Inspect a beech tree in winter, looking for many of the leaves to be golden brown and still on the tree. Beech trees, in particular the immature smaller ones, often keep many of their leaves until the following spring when they will finally shed them. The older beeches keep those leaves on the part of their limbs closest to the trunks.