Today’s post was inspired by glancing in the woods behind my house. Everywhere I looked I saw the light tan colored leaves of the American Beech tree (Nancy Ross Hugo describes the color as palomino, like that of a horse). I saw them on the way to work and on the way home…they seemed to be everywhere in the woods around Richmond. When all of the other trees in the woods have their leaves, the American Beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) can go virtually unnoticed. But in the winter when all of the other deciduous trees stand there looking so barren, the American Beech tree shines with its palomino colored leaves.
Generally speaking, I am not a fan of brown leaves. They send out the impression that something has gone awry in the garden, that someone forgot to water. Pin oaks tend to hold their leaves in the winter too but the leaves of the pin oak look just like the ones that fall in your garden…brown and dead. There is something about the American Beech’s leaves that are inviting. They are light tan in color and invite your eye to keep searching through the woods for more. I think that it is in the winter time that the American Beech is a standout. Unless…
If you are blessed enough to have a large American Beech on your property, consider yourself a lucky gardener. While it may be true that very few plants will grow well under the canopy of an American Beech, it is still quite an honor to be in the presence of a large, established specimen. As the American Beech trees age, they lose their ability to retain their leaves in the winter but what you gain in beauty through the tree offsets the difference. A large 50′-80′ established tree is a beauty in and of itself. The smooth, gray bark is distinct and quite noticeable, even when the garden is alive with other flowering trees and shrubs.
American Beech is native to the east coast and all of the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. It is hardy to Zone 3 and thrives in all but the wettest soils. It can be hard to transplant, which is another reason you should feel blessed if you have a large beech in your garden. The leaves have distinct ribbing and are a rich green during the growing season. They turn yellow in the fall and can light up a garden. Around the same time that the leaves fall, the American Beech releases beechnuts, which are its triangular seed pods that are edible.
If you are thinking of planting an American Beech, site it in full sun and plant it in an area that can be enjoyed by your grandchildren. American Beech is a slow growing shade tree that needs plenty of room to grow. There is a quote by Nelson Henderson that says “the true meaning of life is to plant a tree, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” While you may be able to enjoy an American Beech’s shade, it is your grandchildren who will marvel at its beauty. If you are blessed enough to have a large American Beech, please share the photos with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers by sending me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy gardening!