Content Detail

American beech is a large, graceful native tree, excellent for large, park-like landscapes where it has room to spread its wide, low-growing branches. The massive trunk has beautiful silver-gray bark; the dark green summer foliage turns a golden-bronze in the fall. Leaves typically hang on well into the winter months adding to the seasonal interest. 

  • Family (English) Beech
  • Family (botanic) Fagaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 50-70 feet
  • Mature width 50-70 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late winter, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous, Other
  • Shape or form Round
  • Growth rate Slow
  • Transplants well No
  • Planting considerations May be difficult to find in nurseries
  • Wildlife Cavity-nesting birds, Game birds, Small mammals, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars Yes

Size & form:

American beech has a large open canopy with wide spreading branches. It grows 50-70 feet high and wide. The short trunk is a smooth gray with branches that sweep towards the ground.

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 5.  Native to most of the eastern U.S., this plant can be found growing along cool sites, such as slopes and ravines.

Bark color and texture:

Bark is smooth and silvery-gray in color.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Alternate, ovate leaves have toothed edges that are 2 to 5 inches long. Leaves are dark green in summer, changing to golden-bronze in fall. Leaf buds are over 1 inch long, sharply pointed and smooth, making them a good identification characteristic. Dried leaves will remain on the tree well into winter.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Male and female flowers are separate but on the same tree (monoecious). Female flowers are small terminal spikes, while male flowers are in clusters that dangle. They are yellow-green and not showy.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Fruit are edible beechnuts.  The three-sided, triangular nuts are enclosed in a prickly husk.

Plant care:

The American beech is a woodland species that prefers moist, well-drained, fertile soil. It performs best in moderate to slightly acid soils. It is long-lived, often 200 to 300 years old. 

Disease, pests, and tolerances: 

Various insect and disease problems can occur but are seldom serious. It is intolerant of salt, drought, and wet sites.


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