This fall I mentioned to my husband that I was amazed at how many beeches there seemed to be in the woods all of a sudden. How had I not noticed all these beeches before when so many of them grew right along the roadside and still retained their leaves when most of the other deciduous trees were bare. I knew that beeches kept many of their leaves until the old leaves were pushed off by new leaves in the spring. I wrote about beeches here last year.
My husband felt the trees I thought were beeches had simply not lost their leaves yet. Other trees that still had foliage, like the young oak trees along the roadside. He said I needed to pay attention to bark and leaf shape.
It is true that there are young oaks along the road, but I KNEW all those other trees were beeches. What do do? I had to prove my point. I remembered a very nice man I had met at the Conway School of Landscape Design last year, John O’Keefe, newly retired from the Harvard Forest in the eastern part of the state and a part of Harvard University. Just the expert to teach me about beeches. He said I was correct and that the beeches I saw growing in grove-like groups were probably caused by root suckers. A few years ago many beeches were afflicted by beech bark disease. The damage done to the tree caused it to produce these root suckers. He said the only tree that looked anything like the American beech (Fagus grandifolia) was the chestnut and we do not have any of those in our area.
John O’Keefe also said that the pointed bud is distinctive and an easy and positive identifier. The reason the trees don’t lose their leaves in fall is because they are immature, and it takes the action of a special hormone that tells a tree it is time to let the leaves go. He said the young oaks are holding on to their leaves for the same reason. They are not mature enough to have the necessary hormones.
In my husband’s defense I have to say that halfway through our discussion I began to realize that he was thinking of the European beech (Fagus sylvatica), a magnificent tree that is the tree used for landscape purposes. We used to dine at the Copper Beech Inn and always admired the glorious tree in front of the restaurant.
I’m glad we straightened that issue out to everyone’s satisfaction.