Daniel Boone, the legendary frontiersman of colonial times, left his mark on American history as well as on November’s Tree of the Month: the American beech. Legend has it that Mr. Boone inscribed “D. Boone kilt a bar, 1803” on the trunk of an American beech tree and whether this is true or not, it showcases the rich history that Fagus Grandiflora shares with the United States.
Immense forests of the American beech tree would have greeted Mr. Boone and eager frontiersmen like him as they roamed westward after the Revolutionary War. The range of Fagus grandiflora covers most of the United States east of the Mississippi river, and magnificent forests of the beech tree could be found in Ohio, Missouri, and along the western slopes of the Appalachian mountains.
The American beech is an elegant and majestic tree that is made possible by a slender yet strong trunk that usually splits into multiple trunks halfway up the height of a mature tree. These smaller trunks then spread tall and wide to give the appearance of a large and vase-like crown. The American beech has very smooth silver-grey bark that adds to its graceful and slender shape, although this attribute can also attract bear-killing frontiersman and others to enshrine mementos with a result that looks similar to writing on paper.
Mature beech trees grow to a height between 70 and 120 feet, and it can take 300 to 400 years for them to reach this height. The leaves of the Fagus grandiflora are elliptical in shape with coarse, saw-toothed edges and are typically 3 to 6 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide. During autumn the leaves turn to a yellow or brown color before dropping. The monoecious beech tree begins to flower in early spring and male flowers are small, yellow balls that are clustered together while female flowers are small and inconspicuous balls with red scales. The fruit of the American beech can be produced every 2 to 3 years and is an edible nut, called a “beech nut”, that is eaten by many animals.
The American beech trees prefer moist, well-drained soil that is neither too acidic nor too alkaline. It is commonly said that the first pioneers recognized that wherever beech trees grew was also the best place to grow crops because it had a reputation for growing in the best types of soil. Fagus grandiflora is the most shade-tolerant of the northeastern hardwoods and can be found in forests of final succession and is perfectly at ease in the understory of forests as well.
Beech Bark disease has remained the most significant health concern for the American beech tree. It is caused by the Beech scale insect, as it can open a wound in the tree that allows harmful fungi to enter and create cankers which can ultimately lead to the demise of the tree. Although the disease is widespread, with the proper control and maintenance procedures the disease is not as serious as it once was.
The American Beech is a very well-regarded source of timber, paper, and firewood. The furniture industry in particular made significant use of the American beech since its wood is very hard but can be bent into a wide variety of shapes using a steaming process. Fagus grandiflora is a common tree around the District, and can be seen in places like the U.S. Capitol, the National Arboretum, and Montrose Park. If you want to see it in the wild, the best place would be Rock Creek Park. For other locations be sure to check out our interactive tree map. Red dots signify trees planted by the city; green dots represent Casey Trees-planted trees.
Photo credit: Mr.Mac2009.