There are several members of the Fagus genus of beech trees, such are Japanese, Chinese, European or Mexican beech but the only one native to America is the Fagus grandifolia, the American beech. These are fairly common and widespread trees found throughout the eastern United States from Canada to the Florida panhandle.
We have one large beech, height about 75-feet, growing near the waterfront. The canopy is rounded and full and the branches are wide spread and sturdy. It’s always been a favorite spot for children and grandchildren to explore or swing on a rope or shimmy up into the heart of the tree.The beech tree is deciduous and our old tree loses most of its leaves, leaving a thick litter beneath where nothing else grows. It’s said that the dried leaves from beech trees made choice mattress fillers for colonists and early settlers because there was a certain spring to the mattress and a pleasant aroma.
Beech trees are very easy to identify by the smooth bark, oval toothed leaves with straight parallel veins and long sharply pointed buds. Some say the trunk of the tree resembles a leg of an elephant, a colorful description that delights the grandchildren.
We have no idea if our beech is really old or not but I’m sure it has seen a lot of history on this little stretch of land. Gardening near the tree, we once dug up remnants of an oyster roast held long ago on the banks of this river, with a handblown wine bottle dating around 1800 and very large oyster shells discarded in a pit. Hmmmm… Wouldn’t it be fun to think that this old tree might have provided a little shade for the participants of that meal?
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester