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May 2020 - American Beech

Fagus Grandifolia 

American Beech leafAmerican beech barkAmerican beech tree

The American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a common tree in southern and central Ontario, growing as far north as Georgian Bay. This tree is most often associated with sugar maples (Acer saccharum), however it is also found growing with eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), white pine (Pinus strobus), and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). This tree is important in forestry, as the wood is hard, tough, and heavy, and is used for flooring, furniture, containers, handles, and woodenware. The American beech tree is a very shade tolerant species and grows best in moist, well drained, and rich soils. While they have been known to grown in more thin, acidic soils, they are often scattered, smaller, and less vigorous. 

American beech can grow up to 25 m tall and 90-100cm in diameter. They are often reported to reach 200 years or more. The bark of an American beech is smooth and a light bluish-grey that darkens with age. The leaves are alternate, simple, coarsely toothed, and dark green on top with a lighter green on the underside. The veins on the leaves are one of the American beech’s most distinct features. Veins are straight and parallel, with 9-14 on each side of the leaf. Each vein ends in a tooth. That means, if you follow the veins out from the centre of the leaf to the edge, each vein will end at a tooth.

These trees are often the victim of vandalism, as their bark is smooth and easily carved. These carvings can remain on the bark for years and can allow fungus and disease into the tree. North American beech trees are threatened by Beech Bark Disease. This disease is caused by an introduced beech scale insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga) which opens small fissures in the bark that allows the Neonectria faginata fungus to enter. Beech Bark Disease results in the dying of mature beech trees, which represents a threat to wildlife species who eat the tree nuts or use the tree for habitat. As well, this disease has an impact on the economy, as it reduces the marketability or use of beech in wood products.


Image Credits

Tree: Tim Ross
Leaf: Ministry of Natural Resources
Bark: Ministry of Natural Resources