American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a large, beautiful tree that is native to eastern North America. It is a very slow grower, but over time can reach 50 to 80 feet in height with an equal spread, and can live for 300 years or more. This large, noble tree is best suited for parks or other open areas where it can grow into its grandeur over many generations.
American beech is usually a low-branched tree, with distinctive thin, smooth, silvery gray bark. Leaves have serrated edges, are glossy green in summer, turning a golden bronze in fall, then to a light brown, with some leaves remaining on the tree long into winter, especially on lower branches. Twigs are a good identifier, being very slender, zigzag with thin cigar-shaped buds with pointed ends that almost look like long thorns.
The tree produces a fruit called beech nuts which are edible for humans. Chewing on beech nuts was a practice of Native Americans and early settlers, and people of a certain age may recall the jingle of an advertisement for Beechnut gum.
Beech nuts have been a very important food source for wildlife including squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, fox, deer, black bear, turkeys and other birds. At one time, beech nuts were a main food staple for the now-extinct passenger pigeon. It was a common practice for farmers to let hogs and pigs loose in the woods to feast on beech nuts, which were a great source of food to fatten up livestock.
The American beech in the photo grows along the Mystic River, on the south side of the bridge on High St at the Medford/Arlington line. This particular tree does not yet produce beech nuts, which don’t appear until an American beech is about 40 years old. We may have to wait another fifteen or twenty years for the nuts from this one, but can enjoy the beauty of the tree today.
– Aggie Tuden, Medford Tree Warden