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American Beech

American Beech

Common Name: American Beech

Botanical Name: Fagus grandifolia


NARRATOR: The American Beech tree has been valued both for its wood and for the nuts it produces. Ethnobotanist Justin Nolan describes the uses of the nuts for food, as well as for both internal and external medicines in traditional Native American cultures.

JUSTIN NOLAN: American Beech, Fagus grandifolia. The American Beech is a sturdy, slow-growing dweller of the shades and bottom lands of North America’s southern and eastern forests. The wood of the American Beech is smooth, strong, and uniform. It is occasionally ornamental, but important primarily in forestry harvests as raw material for construction, the flooring, and containers.

The nut meat of the American Beech remains a delicacy for traditional peoples of Native America. They were gathered and consumed fresh, or pounded into a mash and combined with cornmeal, beans, and available berries to make a nourishing soup. Once crushed, boiled, skimmed and salted, Beech nut meat was also added to cornbread. Others used beech nuts for pudding, porridge, gravy, and other sauces.

Beech nuts have an additional therapeutic property. They are reportedly anti-parasitic, and were consumed purposefully by Cherokees to treat intestinal worms. In the more northern clines, the American Beech assumes the more topical role in traditional medicine. Infusions made of Beech tree bark and leaves were used traditionally to relieve poison ivy, for example, for wound and burn dressings, and to revivify frostbitten fingers and toes.


NARRATOR: Crystal Bridges horticulturalist Cody George discusses the legacy of Dr. Neil Compton, who planted many of the Beech trees that are found today on the south side of the museum.

CODY GEORGE: Throughout the south side of our forest, you’ll notice a lot of American Beech trees. These Beech trees were presumed to be planted by Dr. Neil Compton, who did own the property. We do have evidence that Dr. Compton did purchase 750 saplings of American Beech trees. So these trees are estimated between 50 to 60 years, so it would make sense that these trees did come from Dr. Compton.

American Beech

Plant family: Fagaceae

Location: Art Trail, Tulip Tree Trail, West Walkway

Growing zone: 4-9

Height: 50-70 ft.

Spread: 25-50 ft.

Bloom time: April, May

Bloom description: The reddish-male flowers hang on a slender stalk, while the yellowish-female flowers hang at the end of a short stalk. The flowers are not an attraction of the tree, but they do give rise to the fruit, which is a bur with 2, 3-sided nuts inside it. The fruit can be collected from October-November.

Leaf type: The light-green, oval leaves have blunt serrations and turn a beautiful gold in fall. The lower leaves remain attached during winter and fade to a nice wheat color. The leaves remain attached until the new growth emerges in the spring.

Garden uses: Best used as a canopy tree. Although growth is quite slow, this medium-sized tree is worth it. The attractive gray bark and light-green leaves are paired nicely with the low, horizontal limb structure. The tree prefers a fertile, moist soil in full to partial sun.

Wildlife benefits: The nuts provide food for quail, wood ducks, and numerous other species of birds and small mammals.