Plant Characteristics:

  • Tree: up to 120 ft tall
  • Bark: smooth gray
  • Blooms: April-May
  • Buds: sharply pointed about 1 in long
  • Flowers: male flowers yellow-green, female flowers in pairs on a short stem
  • Leaves: deciduous, alternate, simple and egg shaped
  • Fruit type: nut (3 angled) inside slightly prickly 4-sided bur
  • Fall Foliage: copper, yellow, beige

Additional Details:

  • Nuts are delicious roasted and eaten whole or ground into flour. Crushed kernels will produce an oil similar to olive  oil.
  • Nuts are eaten by ruffed grouse, wild turkey, squirrel, black bear, and racoon.
  • Native americans chewed nuts as a worm expellent.
  • Leaf tea is a wash for burns, frostbite, or poison-ivy rash.
  • Larval host to the Early Hairtstreak (Erora laeta).
Marcescence:  The leaves are marcescent on the American beech, especially on younger trees. Marcescence occurs when any plant part dies but does not prop from the plant. Although no one knows why this marcescence occurs, here are some hypotheses:
  • Leaves when dropped in the spring will provide a fresh layer of mulch or preserve soil moisture.
  • Leaves provide cover for birds in winter winds.
  • Leaves prevent deer browse and protect new buds.

References:
Brown, R. and M. Brown. 1972. Woody Plants of Maryland. Port City Press, Baltimore, MD.
Foster, S. and J. Duke. 1990. A field guide to medicinal plants of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
Grimm, W. C. and J. Kartesz. 2002. The Illustrated Book of Trees. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, PA.
Harris, J. and M. Woolf Harris. 1994. Plant Identification Terminology: An illustrated Glossary. Spring Lake Publishing, Spring Lake, UT.
Kling A. 2022. The Mystery of Marcescence. Branching out, Vol. 30, No.1 (Winter 2022). University of Maryland Extension, MD.
Peterson, L. 1977. A field guide to edible wild plants of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
Virginia Department of Forestry. 2022. Common Native Trees of Virginia – Tree Identification Guide.