American Beech

Illustration of American beech leaves and nuts.
Scientific Name
Fagus grandifolia
Fagaceae (oaks)

American beech is a medium to large tree up to 80 feet tall, with a long, smooth trunk supporting a wide, spreading crown.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 3–6 inches long, 1½–3 inches wide, thin with a papery texture, broadest at or below the middle, the margin coarsely toothed, the upper surface dull bluish green, shiny; lower surface yellow-green; persisting on younger trees through winter.

Bark is distinctive: light- to steel-gray, smooth.

Twigs are slender, somewhat zigzagged, green and hairy at first, later reddish brown or gray and smooth; buds slender, ¾–1 inch long, sharp pointed.

Flowers April–May. Male and female flowers are separate on the same twig. Male flowers in rounded clusters, about 1 inch across, hanging on stalks. Female flowers in pairs, on stout spikes about 1 inch long, usually on twig tips.

Fruit has burlike, prickly husk, ½–¾ inch long; nuts 2, edible.

At maturity, to 80 feet tall.
Where To Find
image of American Beech Distribution Map
Restricted to well-drained, sandy soils in southeast Missouri, particularly Crowley’s Ridge and hills along the Mississippi.
The only beech native to the United States. Occurs naturally on lower slopes and ravines of Crowley’s Ridge, also in mesic (moist) woods of slopes, ravines, and small valleys bordering streams and spring branches in the river hills bordering the Mississippi River in southeastern Missouri. The wood has many uses, and this tree has been cultivated in America since 1800.
Not abundant in Missouri.
The wood of this majestic, long-lived tree has had many uses: furniture, crates, flooring, tools, toys, and — since it does not give off a flavor or color — barrels for brewing beer (hence the slogan “beechwood aged” used to advertise Budweiser). There is a long history of medicinal uses, too.
The fruit is eaten by songbirds, wild turkey, and mammals ranging from flying squirrels and other rodents to opossums and white-tailed deer. Huge trees serve wildlife even in death; their trunks become homes for woodpeckers and other cavity nesters, and for salamanders and others once they fall.
Media Gallery
Similar Species

Where to See Species

Cape LaCroix Bluffs CA is a 63.21 acre area situated in northern Scott County in close proximity to the Diversion Channel and the Southeast Missouri Port Authority. 
This forest tract on the Mississippi River contains a geologic formation known as Tower Rock. The Tower Rock Natural Area comprises about 32 acres of upland oak-pine and mixed hardwoods.
About Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in Missouri
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.