Height: 50 to 80 feet tall
Lifespan: 100 to 200 years; rarely longer
Fall Foliage: Light brown; leaves often cling to the tree throughout the winter
Range: The eastern United States to the Mississippi River; absent from most of Florida
Typical Habitat: Adaptable, but usually found at higher elevations in the south; can survive in lowland habitats that aren’t flooded for significant amounts of time
The American Beech: Sprouting Up in the Shade
A large American beech spotted in a natural habitat is a sight to behold.
Their grey bark presents an attractive color palette, the tree’s growth structure is handsome, and they sometimes produce massive trunks. They’re also very attractive in the winter, while clad in the dead leaves they’ll keep for much of the season.
Lucky for fans of the tree, American beeches often become quite numerous in the forests which they occur.
A few of the reasons they’re able to do so include their incredible tolerance for shade and tendency to produce many “suckers” – new tree stems that pop up from the tree’s root system. In fact, when you look at a small clump of beech trees, you may very well be looking at a single tree with numerous stems.
American Beech Identification: Tips & Tricks
In areas where you’d expect to find this species, the American beech is usually fairly easy to identify by the bark alone. It is thin, smooth, beautiful and, unfortunately, the frequent target of vandals.
Beeches may be confused with other smooth-barked trees, such as red maples (Acer rubrum) and ironwoods (Carpinus caroliniana). But the former’s leaves are easily distinguishable from beech leaves at a glance and they’d be arranged in pairs (oppositely), rather than in alternating fashion.
The leaves of the latter can be ruled out by noting the beech’s single-toothed leaves; the ironwood has double-toothed leaves (the teeth have teeth). They’re also usually smaller than beech leaves.
The American Beech: Additional Information
Still need for more info about the American beech? Check out some of these sources to quench your tree-knowledge thirst.
- North Carolina State Extension: A great resource complete with a ton of American beech photos.
- Wild Adirondacks: An accessible guide to the species, including information on the tree’s wood and use by humans.
- U.S. Forest Service: A comprehensive resource that provides a great range map and data about growth rates.