For me, it is a quintessential Eastern North America forest tree — American Beech (Fagus grandifolia). In more northern states, American Beeches share dominion over mature forests with maples. In the southeast piedmont region, these magnificent trees usually grow on mesic slopes with oaks, hickories, and tulip poplars. I find them most often on north-facing slopes overlooking creeks and rivers.
American Beech is a slow grower. I know the young trees we’ve added to our property won’t achieve their maximum glory until long after we’re gone. But young Beeches have their own unique aesthetic qualities. They hold tight to their autumn-turned tan leaves all winter long, not releasing them until their pointed leaf buds begin to unfurl. I love the pointy leaf buds; they’re sharp enough to prick skin if you’re foolish enough to stab yourself with one. Here’s a closer view:
The buds are not easy to see on mature trees, which can reach 70-100 feet tall, providing deep shade beneath their branches. But the white-gray trunks of mature American Beeches make their own visual impact.
We planted our young trees on the north-east-facing slope overlooking the creek. They are growing quite respectably, and have reached fifteen or so feet in height in as many years. I added them for their beauty, and because I thought they’d be happy where we put them. And also because Beech nuts are an important food source for wildlife — from wood ducks to turkeys to squirrels.
Planting slow-growing trees is an investment in the future, and in the case of my American Beeches, they will likely have quite a ways to go to reach maturity after I am gone. I must trust that whoever tends our five acres after us will appreciate the beauty, shade, and wildlife food provided by this forest giant.