American Beech, easily recognized from a distance by its smooth, steel-gray bark and tapering surface roots at the base of its trunk, is present throughout all of Ohio. This tree is a favorite of children and teenagers who love to carve their initials onto its large smooth trunks. Many beech trees are partially hollow and provide excellent den sites for various wildlife, including squirrels, raccoons, and opossums. Its small, triangular nuts are relished by both mammals and birds in autumn.
A native of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada, the slow-growing American Beech reaches 80 feet tall and 70 feet wide when found in the open, with a short trunk and a rounded to spreading shape. It is a climax tree in mature forests, along with Sugar Maple, Oaks, Hickories, and sometimes Canadian Hemlock. As a member of the Beech Family, American Beech has a similar-looking cousin in European Beech, and is related to the Oaks and Chestnuts.
Planting Requirements - American Beech is adaptable to organic or clay soils, of alkaline to acidic pH, and of very moist to dry conditions. However, it prefers rich soils that are well-drained with constant moisture, and is often found naturally on lower slopes that drain into streams. It is very shade tolerant (especially when young), but achieves its best growth in partial sun to full sun, although still with a slow growth rate. It is found in zones 4 to 9.
Potential Problems - American Beech is usually disease and pest-free, but its tendency to have hollow trunks often leads to massive limbs being ripped out by strong winds. In urban areas, its shallow root system and dense shade make turfgrass establishment a real challenge, especially under the canopy of large, mature trees. In addition, it is sparsely branched when young, giving it a thin appearance until it reaches about four inches in trunk diameter.
Beech bark disease (BBD) has been killing American beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees in the eastern United States since the 1930’s. The disease is actually an interaction between the beech scale (a non-native insect) and either one of two Nectria fungi.