The American Beech
The American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a large and handsome hardwood tree native to much of the Eastern United States and Canada.
In addition to being an important timber tree thanks to the quality of its wood, the American beech also produces edible nuts which are an important source of food for many wildlife species, including wild turkey, pheasant, ruffed grouse, whitetail deer, squirrels, and many more. It is believed that beech nuts were one of the primary foods of the now-extinct passenger pigeon, and that one of the factors in the birds’ extinction was the logging of many native beech forests in the 19th century. The nuts are also used as livestock feed, particularly for pigs and turkeys.
Beechnuts are also edible by humans, but they are not as widely used as the nuts of many other hard mast producing trees because the nuts are difficult to remove from the shells.
Another notable feature of the American beech is its unusually smooth bark, which makes it a common victim of graffiti artists. The most famous example is an authenticated carving found on a beech tree in Kentucky that read “D. Boone kilt a bar 1803.” The section of tree trunk can now be viewed at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville.
In many parts of its range, the American beech is threatened by Beech Bark Disease (BBD), a fungus accidentally introduced to North America from Eurasia in the late 19th century. Though the effects have been less dramatic than the near-total annihilation of the American Chestnut by chestnut blight, which began around the same time, BBD is still a major ecological threat and efforts are underway to breed resistant trees and find other ways of controlling and containing the disease.