February’s Native Maryland Plant
Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.
Common Name: American Beech
Fagus sp. are imposing trees, slow-growing but long-lived. Their naturally long and low, horizontal branches create dense shade where no ground cover or grass is needed. The beech growing in my yard was pruned as a young tree, preventing its lower limbs from reaching cars passing by, thereby allowing me to walk beneath its lovely branches. This hardwood tree has a shallow root system that makes it susceptible to root zone disturbance and drought. It prefers a loamy, moist, acidic soil and during colonial times its sighting was used as an indicator of fertile soil – many beech forests were cleared to make way for farming. Although it is rated as a full sun tree, Fagus grandifolia is known as one of the most shade “tolerant” northern hardwood species. Beech nuts are a valuable food source for many mammals and its foliage is host to 125 caterpillar species¹. Rick Darke² has said of this tree, “it is worth watching year-round just for the pageantry of its foliage.”
Fagus sp. spread by seed dispersal and root sprouts and are considerably deer resistant. Due to climate change and Fagus’ adaptability, these trees are having a resurgence and are out competing other important tree species – including in my yard. The next time you’re out walking in one of Maryland’s forests, look for Fagus grandifolia; its distinct bark and buds will help you identify it. With spring just around the corner, I encourage you to ‘think big’ and consider planting a large shade tree. Shade trees improve air quality and help cool the planet, including the stormwater runoff that is flowing to our rivers and the Bay.
1 Doug Tallamy, Living Landscapes
2 Author – The American Woodland Garden
NOTE: Visit the HoCo State Champion Fagus grandifolia at HCCC. http://www.mdbigtrees.com/view_tree.aspx
~ Alison Milligan – MG/MN 2013
Master Watershed Steward Class 7