Beech (Fagus) is a genus of ten species of deciduous trees in the family Fagaceae, native to temperate Europe, Asia and North America. Undoubtedly, it is the European beech, Fagus sylvatica, that is the star of the genus, with scores of diverse and striking cultivars such as 'Red Obelisk'. By comparison the American beech, Fagus grandifolia, seems a little bland. There are no cultivars to speak of, just the basic species, but the American beech is nonetheless one of the most distinctive and elegant trees of the North American forest. In early spring new leaves emerge from buds as feathery tassels. The leaves turn a rich emerald green for summer making for a cool and inviting shade. In fact, little grows in the dense shade of a Beech tree but as the tree is naturally low-branched, no ground cover or grass is needed. By autumn the leaves turn bronze which changes to a light tan in winter. Another advantage to the American beech is the form; it is graceful and majestic, superior to other beeches and always attractive, and with the passing years it takes on a venerable irregularity of shape. And winter reveals yet another of the American beech's outstanding characteristic, which is its thin, pearl grey bark that, when seen in the depth of the forest, possesses an ethereal paleness. Finally, unlike the European beech, which resents extremes of temperatures, American beech is tough as nails and more adaptable to climate extremes. Its natural range is from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, a vast area of variability. 

American beech is suitable for larger properties only and, under cultivation, will slowly reach a height and spread of 50 or more feet. Forest grown trees have even exceeded120 feet. The seed is four tiny nuts held in a spiny bur. These beech nuts are highly prized by birds and mammals, including man. The wood is almost white and used for toys, cookware, furniture and barrels which age beer.

The American beech is under-utilized, no doubt because of the lack of showy cultivars, but its attractiveness is more subtle and handsome. It will grow across most of North America, the UK, New Zealand and Australia.


American beech

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