American beech (Fagus grandifolia), is the only species of this genus in North America. Although beech is now confined to the eastern United States (except for the Mexican population) it once extended as far west as California and probably flourished over most of North America before the glacial period. This slow-growing, common, deciduous tree reaches its greatest size in the alluvial soils of the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys and may attain ages of 300 to 400 years. Beech wood is excellent for turning and steam bending. It wears well, is easily treated with preservatives, and is used for flooring, furniture, veneer, and containers. The distinctive triangular nuts are eaten by people and are an important food for wildlife.
THE TREE: American beech trees reach heights of 120 ft (37 m), with a diameter of almost 4 ft (1.2 m). The bark is thin, smooth, and gray to blue gray. Beech leaves are oval, 3 to 4 inches long, pointed at the apex and coarsely toothed, becoming leathery when mature.
WOOD CHARACTERISTICS: The sapwood of American beech is white with a red tinge, while the heartwood is light to dark reddish brown.
Beech wood is used to make flooring, furniture, veneer plywood, and railroad ties. It is especially favored as fuel wood because of its high density and good burning qualities. Coal tar made from beech wood is used to protect wood from rotting. The creosote made from beech wood is used to treat various human and animal disorders.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: American beech is distributed from Cape Brenton Island, Nova Scotia west to Maine, southern Quebec, southern Ontario, northern Michigan, and eastern Wisconsin; south to southern Illinois, southeastern Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, southeastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas; east to northern Florida; and northeast to southeastern South Carolina. An isolated variety (var. mexicana) occurs in the mountains of northeastern Mexico.