What Are the Basics of Beech Tree Identification?

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Beech trees have simple, toothed leaves and light gray bark that remains smooth with age. Beeches are excellent for shading and produce edible, albeit bitter, nuts.

The genus Fagus includes 10 species of beech. The beech is native to Europe and North America. The bark is a clear identifying characteristic of beeches because of its smoothness. Most trees develop ridges with age, but the light gray bark of beeches remains smooth as the tree matures. Beech leaves are simple and toothed, reaching lengths of 6 inches. The leaves are dark green and become yellowish in autumn. Beeches often retain leaves into early winter, when most trees have dropped their leaves completely. Due to the shade of the branches and a spreading, shallow root system, little undergrowth surrounds a beech tree. Beeches exhibit flowers in pairs. In autumn, these flowers develop into nuts with soft, spiny coverings.

Beech trees are superb shade trees thanks to their big, rounded crowns. Beechnuts have a high tannin content, and although they are comestible, they and are prone to bitterness. Beech trees also have a tendency to become hollow, making them especially prone to storm damage and broken limbs, but this also makes them excellent habitats for cavity-dwelling wildlife.