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American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)


Plant American Beech in my City? They answer may be yes, in the right location. The American Beech has long been the poster child for lack of Urban tolerance. It is commony used in classrooms as an example of a tree that does not tolerate soil compaction, or other stresses. However, the success of some trees planted on The Ohio State University, suggest that maybe this tree may not be quite as delicate as we have been lead to believe. According to Dirr, (see references) the American Beech will outperform the European beech in many areas.

One reason for this misconception may be that mature American Beeches in a climax forest environment do appear to be fairly intolerant of radical changes in their environment. When trees are cleared for new construction, and there are major changes in light, soil compaction, drainage, etc. The American Beech will decline.

However, when planted in the landscape as a young tree, and allowed to establish there, there is as yet no real evidence that American beech is any more susceptible to soil compaction than other commonly planted mesic selections such as sugar maple or hophornbeam, and may be more tolerant of other stresses than maples or hormbeams.

Urban Tolerance/Susceptibilites

Forestry literature suggests that the beech will resist damage by sulfur dioxide and ozone smog, and has no major disease or insect problems. The trees also are well structured so storm damage should be minimal during the expected service life of the tree. Like most mesic species, beech is sensitive to extremes of moisture and drainage. American beech prefers slightly acidic soils. As we're all aware, its smooth bark may invite carvings of valentines and initials; however, wound response is good. American beech is quite shade-tolerant and even modestly shaded areas may increase tolerance to other stresses.

Where to Plant

Urban foresters should definitely consider experimenting with the tree in landscaped areas with moist well-drained soil that will not be subject to heavy traffic or disturbance, and/or which may be partially shaded. However, use need not be limited to those sites. On drier sites, newly planted trees may require several years to establish. The tree is a an excellent choice for parks, golf courses, and open lawn areas. All beeches tend to produce surface roots and as such are probably not as suitable for tree lawns or planting near walkways.

The American Beech tree pictured below was planted on The Ohio State University campus as a 2-inch tree. So far it has shown no major signs of stress, and performance has been better than expected. Young American beech trees (less than 3 inches dbh) may be easily transplanted B&B in early spring. Older trees should probably not be transplanted from the wild. This tree would certainly benefit from further urban testing.

American Beech on The Ohio State Univ. Campus
American Beech, Columbus, Ohio.

Shade Tree Home Page
T. Davis Sydnor, Ph. D. and Nick E. D'Amato
Urban Forestry Department
School of Natural Resources
The Ohio State University
2021 Coffey Road,
Columbus OH 43210
(614) 292-3865