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.

Location of Fagus grandifolia (American beech) at the Arboretum