American Beeches and the Winter Woods

Most of the year, the 250 yard jaunt to the woods from my backdoor provides a routine, but pleasant warmup for a woods hike. The land begins relatively flat and then falls off rather steeply closer to  the woods. As the individual trees and shrubs become distinct,  you gather in the sights, scents, and sounds that begin to distract from whatever it is that you gladly left behind.

During a tough stretch of winter in western Pennsylvania, however, getting on enough gear to withstand the cold and wind provides a workout before you even leave the house. When you do step out into the open,  you must endure the wind barreling through the flat, open space before the woods. Fortunately, the descent into the woods provides relief from the worst of the wind. Let’s hear it for the series of ridges and valleys that characterize this neck of the woods!

Persistent beech leaves

Persistent beech leaves

I captured this woods shot during one of the warmer days – a balmy 18°! I track the American beeches, pictured in the foreground,  during the winter months because I’m fascinated that they retain their leaves until it’s almost time for new leaves to emerge. 

This winter scene includes a backdrop of black cherries, several red maples, and eastern hemlocks.

Beech thicket

Beech thicket

Beeches also routinely root sprout from mature trees producing thickets that can be quite dense. If you spot thick patches of young trees with persistent winter leaves in our region, you have most likely discovered beeches.

This picture of a beech thicket was taken in a mixed stand of beeches and eastern hemlocks.

I’m going to do a little research on the root sprouting. I’ve been told two different things by those who know trees. One thought is that the root sprouting is almost entirely caused by disease processes in the trees. Others have suggested that root sprouting is naturally occurring, but that it is worsened by the disease. 

There’s more worth knowing about the American beech. Coming soon:

  1. Beech: Timber and Wildlife Value
  2. Beech Bark Disease
  3. Quick keys to beech ID


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