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Life History and Disturbance Response of Fagus grandifolia (American beech)
Family: Fagaceae
Guild: persistent, slow-growing understory tolerant
Functional Lifeform: medium-size to large deciduous tree
Ecological Role: grows on well-drained, coarse-textured soils and on some poorly drained sites; frequent associate of sugar maple but is common in many mixed-species hardwood stands; extremely tolerant of understory conditions and persists in subdominant positions for many years
Lifespan, yrs (typical/max): 300/400
Shade Tolerance: very tolerant
Height, m: 18-30
Canopy Tree: yes
Pollination Agent: wind
Seeding, yrs (begins/optimal/declines): 40/60/300
Mast Frequency, yrs: 3-8
New Cohorts Source: root suckers
Flowering Dates: late spring
Flowers/Cones Damaged by Frost: yes
Seedfall Begins: late fall -- winter
Seed Banking: up to 1 yr
Cold Stratification Required: yes
Seed Type/Dispersal Distance/Agent: nut/ to 50 m/ gravity, birds, other animals
Season of Germination: spring
Seedling Rooting System: taproot
Sprouting: root suckers and sprouts on young stems common
Establishment Seedbed Preferences:
Substrate: mineral soil or leaf litter
Light: overstory shade required
Moisture: moist required
Temperature: neutral
Disturbance response:
Fire: At long fire intervals, American beech frequently becomes a dominant species in mixed deciduous forests; beech dominance is increasing in forests where fire has been suppressed. A thin-barked species with shallow roots, it is highly vulnerable to injury by even low-intensity fires. Seedlings and saplings are particularly susceptible. On surviving large trees, fire-caused wounds may be an entry point for fungi. Postfire colonization of beech depends on the number of surviving root suckers and on stump sprouting. Seedling establishment may occur from surviving trees onsite or from offsite seeds carried by birds and other animals.
Weather: Beech is highly intolerant of floods during the growing season. It is susceptible to winter sunscald and late spring frosts and to frost-cracking in cold winters, particularly during drought conditions. It is moderately susceptible to glaze-storm damage.
Air pollution: No symptoms of foliar injury have been noted in beech trees growing in areas of high ambient ozone.
Exotics: Beech bark disease is spread by an exotic insect, the beech scale insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.). Once infested, pathogenic fungi of the genus Nectria (one exotic, one native) carried by the insect invade bark tissues and kill the tree. Introduced to Nova Scotia around 1890, it has spread throughout New England. Existing infestations are reduced and new ones are minimized by extreme cold winter temperatures and heavy autumn precipitation. Some trees are resistant to infestation.