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Beech Tree Identification

By John Lindell ; Updated September 21, 2017
American beech tree.
Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of psyberartist

The American beech tree is a shade tree that produces edible nuts. The American beech has many characteristics that make it a desirable tree for your property or woodlands, including a unique shape and bark texture and attractive leaves.


The branches of the beech tree are spread out. The beech possesses a large and rounded crown of branches, but these branches in many instances will grow horizontal to the trunk of the tree or even a bit downwards. This gives the beech a full appearance and allows it to shade a larger area than if the branches grew at upward angles, which is the case with most hardwood trees.


The bark of the American beech is gray and smooth. You can often identify a beech simply by its bark, as few large trees have smooth bark. While many trees have smooth bark as they mature, it often develops furrows and ridges as the tree ages. This is not so with the beech, as it retains its smooth bark even into old age.


The typical beech tree grows to heights between 60 and 80 feet. Trunk diameters can range from a foot to 2.5 feet. The dark green leaves may attain lengths as long as six inches but are usually no wider than three inches, giving them an elliptical shape. They turn yellow or brown in the fall and often persist on the beech into the beginning of winter. The flowers develop into the beechnuts by autumn, which exist within a prickly covering that splits open, revealing the triangular, half-inch long nut.

Lack of Growth Underneath

A beech tree is often defined by the lack of growth beneath it. This happens for two reasons: first, the shade the tree creates prevents much sunlight from reaching the area under the tree. Secondly, the root system of the beech is extensive and grows very close to the surface, and in some instances above the ground. This means that the beech sucks up any moisture in the surrounding soil. These two factors make it difficult for other plants to emerge.


A young beech looks nothing like the older version, as there are few branches on the tree until its trunk reaches around four inches wide. Beech trees are prone to developing a hollow trunk, meaning you may find them on your property with creatures such as raccoons or flying squirrels living inside them. The hollow trunk makes them susceptible to storm damage, with large branches coming down in high winds.


About the Author


John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.