American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a majestic tree and is one of the top shade trees among the hardwoods. The early settlers to America quickly recognized it as a close relative to the European beech, according to the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees.” You may have an American beech growing near you if you live in the eastern half of the United States anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to New England. Look for many of the beech tree’s distinctive features to identify it.
Estimate the size of a beech, looking for a tree between 60 and 80 feet tall. The trunk of a beech can be as wide as 3 feet in some instances. The tree can have a wide spreading canopy. The trunk of a beech is typically short and many of the lower branches may touch the ground.
Inspect the bark of a beech tree, looking for smooth, light steel-gray bark, even on the older specimens. Most kinds of trees that have smooth bark when immature will develop scaly or furrowed bark sooner or later. Beech trees though retain the smoothness of their bark for life.
Look for a tree that develops smaller trees around it from its root system. Beech trees can multiply by suckering, a method of propagation that sees new shoots emerging from the roots around the tree. This can result in a thicket of small beech trees surrounding a larger individual tree. Notice the roots of a beech. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources website states that the roots will taper from the trunk and some of the roots will break the surface of the surrounding ground.
Examine the leaves on a beech tree. American beech has leaves that are oval to elliptical as far as shape, with a tapered, long, pointed tip. Beech leaves are from 2 to 6 inches long, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry website, and have toothed edges. Beech leaves change from their darker shade of green in summer to a yellow-green in fall, with some turning gold-brown. One feature of beech trees that will help you identify the species is that on younger trees, most of the leaves remain on the tree through the winter, while even on older trees those leaves closest to the trunk on the lower limbs stay on the tree until spring arrives.
Search for beechnuts on the tree or beneath it in the summer and into the autumn months. The developing nut will have a prickly bur-like husk about it. The nut inside will be triangular, half an inch long and a shiny brown color. The husks split apart in the last weeks of summer to reveal the fruit, which is a favorite with birds and mammals like chipmunks, squirrels and deer.