TREES & plants

American beech

American beech leaves and beechnuts.

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. 

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.  

Botanical name: 
Fagus grandifolia
All Common Names: 
American beech
Family (English): 
Beech
Family (Botanic): 
Fagaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
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 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Prefers
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Intolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Intolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Intolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • May be difficult to find in nurseries
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color, 
  • Edible fruit, 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter, 
  • Mid winter, 
  • Late winter, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall, 
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous, 
  • Other
Shape or Form: 
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Transplants Well: 
  • No
Wildlife: 
  • Cavity-nesting birds, 
  • Game birds, 
  • Small mammals, 
  • Songbirds
More Information: 

Size & Form

A large open canopy with wide spreading branches. Grows 50-70 feet high and wide.
Trunk is a smooth gray with a short trunk, branches sweep towards the ground.

Tree & Plant Care

A woodland species that prefers mosit, well-drained, fertile soil.
Best in moderate to slightly acid soils. 
Long-lived, often 200 to 300 years old.

American beech has a smooth, gray bark.

Disease, pests, and problems

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

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 5
Found growing along cool sites like 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 with toothed edges; 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, a good identification marker.
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 smalee terminal spikes, male flowers are in clusters that dangle.
They are yellow-green and not showy.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit are edible beechnuts, 3-sided, triangular nuts enclosed in a prickly husk.

Fagus grandifolia or American beech