American Beech

Fagus grandifolia

Description & Overview

American Beech is an aristocrat of the forest! A large, stately tree with light gray, smooth bark that can resemble an elephants hide, its edible nuts are attractive to wildlife. Nuts are produced at two to eight-year intervals.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 60-75 feet
Mature Spread: 55-65 feet
Growth Rate: Very Slow
Growth Form: Broadly oval canopy. May sucker with age forming a thicket.
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Best performance on organically rich (acidic) loamy soils. Intolerant of flooding during growing season.
Flower: Insignificant, monoecious
Bloom Period: May
Foliage: Dark green
Fall Color: Golden-Bronze
Fruit Notes: Nut, ripens between September and November. Substantial production typically begins at 40 years of age.

Suggested Uses:

Specimen Tree. Replacement tree in shady sites.

Salable #5 RootMaker Containers. Pictures taken mid-June.

Left: #5 RootMaker container | Middle: Characteristic bark | Right: Stunning fall color

Wildlife Value:

Nuts are enjoyed by many mammals including White-tailed Deer, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, woodland deer mice, black bear, porcupine, pheasant, fox, black bear, rabbits, and opossum. Songbirds enjoy the nuts as well, including White-breasted Nuthatch, Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Wood Duck, Blue Jays, and Hairy, Pileated, and Downy Woodpeckers. The tree provides great habitat for Red-shouldered hawks, Pileated woodpeckers, wood thrush, squirrels, and Acadian flycatchers.

American Beech is a host plant for many Lepidoptera larvae, like Nymphalidae butterflies, Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis), Early Hairstreak (Erora laeta), Fluid Arches (Morrisonia latex), Reticulated Fruitworm moth (Sparganothis reticulatana), Purple-crested Slug moth (Adoneta spinuloides), Kent’s Geometer (Selenia kentaria), Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius), Hollow-spotted Plagodis (Plagodis alcoolaria), Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cercropia), Saddled Prominent (Heterocampa guttivitta), Sweetfern Geometer moth (Cyclophora pendulinaria), White-streaked Prominent (Iannassa lignioclor), Red-lined Panopoda moth (Panopoda rufimargo), Forest Tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria),  Morning Glory Prominent (Schizura ipomoeae), Colorful Zale (Zale minerea), Brown-shaded Carpet (Venusia comptaria), Woodgrain Leafroller moth (Pandemis lamprosana), Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar moth (Lochmaeus manteo), Laugher moth (Charadra deridens), Yellow-collared slug moth (Apoda y-inversum), Shagreened slug moth (Apoda biguttata), Luna moth (Actias luna), Ovate Dagger moth (Acronicta ovata), and Fall Cankerworm moth (Alsophila pometaria).

Eight-spotted Tumbling Flower beetles (Hoshihananomia octopunctata), Branch Pruner beetles (Psyrassa unicolor), Mottled Longhorned beetles (Anthophylax attenuatus), and bark beetles (Xyloterinus politus) will bore into the bark for food. Other insect feeders include Woolly Beech aphids (Phyllaphis fagi), Oystershell scale (Lepidosaphes ulmi), Beech scale, and Giant Bark aphids (Longistigma caryae).

Maintenance Tips:

Prune for structure during dormant season. Thin bark susceptible to mechanical/animal damage. Protect from deer damage with a tree guard or mesh fencing.

We invite you to check out the Arborist For Hire lookup at the Wisconsin Arborist Association website to find an ISA Certified Arborist near you.


American Beech is intolerant of salt, pollution, and compacted soils and is best planted away from busy roads or highways.

Beech bark disease, beech scale, bleeding canker, powdery mildew, and sooty mold are occasional problems.

Leaf Lore:

Beech trees are not for the impatient – it will take many, many years to reach their mature height of 60+ feet, but they make a lovely addition to the yard with smooth, gray, often mottled bark, giving the trees a stately appearance even in winter. Not everyone has the site for a beech. They like rich soils with lots of organic matter, and need protection from the elements, so if your yard is very windy, use the house or other trees as a windbreak.

It takes about 40 years for a beech tree to produce nuts. The nut is encased in a burred husk that pops open into four sections to reveal the meat inside (if you own a beech tree, you know not to walk bare foot around lest you get a husk stuck in your flesh). The scientific name Fagus is Latin for “to eat” because so many creatures of the forest rely on the high fat and protein content in their diets.

The wood is harvested for flooring, containers, furniture, and wooden ware.

Companion Plants:

Wisconsin forest associates include Eastern Hemlock, Sugar Maple, and Yellow Birch.

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