American beech is the only member of the genus Fagus native to North America. This tree features a smooth, gray bark and nuts with a high oil content that are a good source of food for many species of wildlife, including bears, squirrels, wild turkeys and grouse. These species can often become food for animals higher up the food chain, giving this tree an important role in the overall food chain.
American beech trees can reach between 60 and 80 feet tall when cultivated in urban environments. In a forest, under ideal conditions, these trees can reach 120 feet in height. The beech tree has a short trunk, with a broad crown that can spread to 50 feet or more. Leaves on these trees average between 2 1/2 to 6 inches long.
American beech trees can grow in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zones 3 through 8. The tree grows well in most parts of the United States, except for the western half of California and southwestern corner of Arizona, the southern tip of Texas, the extreme southern portion of Louisiana and most of central and south Florida. Even though it grows in many places, the tree is, in fact, native to the eastern 1/4 of the United States.
The American beech tree produces its fruit, the high-calorie oily nuts, between September and November. These nuts allow many species to store calories for winter survival. Beechnuts are shiny, triangular brown nuts that have a prickly coating. They generally grow on short stalks and grow in pairs. People can also eat beechnuts. However, although they are sweet, they are very small.
Soil and Water
American beech trees are tolerant of most soil types, as long as the soils drain well. They grow well in sandy soils, loamy soils and soils that are primarily clay. They do not, however, tolerate salt in the soil or air. They are moderately drought-tolerant. However, they do better if they are kept constantly moist and are given water whenever the top 1/2 inch of soil feels dry.
The American beech grows in a wide range of light conditions, including partial shade, partial sun, full shade and full sun. The taller the tree grows, the more likely it will be to get more light as it extends above nearby trees.
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