The American beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) grows throughout the eastern third of the United States, with the exception of most of Florida and southeastern Georgia. American beech will adapt to many types of growing conditions and become a handsome specimen over time. It's easy to identify a tree as a beech, even from a distance, because of the tree's unique features.
Look for a tall tree with a very wide canopy. Beeches can grow to 70 feet tall and a width of 120 feet. This translates into an upright tree with a rounded, spreading crown. The trunk may be as wide as 3 feet.
Examine the bark. The thin bark of the American beech is quite smooth, no matter the age of the tree, and has a distinct gray color to it.
Observe the lower trunk of the tree. The trunk of the American beech flares out where it emerges from the ground, and the roots are often visible, since they are so shallow. Often, the ground under a beech is bare because the dense shade its canopy causes combined with the shallow root system prevents other plants from flourishing.
Study the leaves of the tree, looking for foliage up to 6 inches long and 2.5 inches in diameter. Beech leaves are oblong, have a series of serrations along their margins and are a dark shade of green all year, except for in autumn, when they turn yellow-brown.
Walk through the woods in winter, looking for a tree that still has brownish leaves on it. Many beech leaves won't fall off until spring, when new leaves grow in. Frequently you will encounter small beeches with branches full of leaves in the midst of January and February, while all other deciduous trees are bare.
Inspect the ground around a tree or look in its branches for beechnuts, which are edible by animals and humans,. A spiny brown husk encloses the nuts, which will ripen by the end of summer or in the first weeks of autumn.