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American Beech, and something else that's pretty creepy.

This is July, the month that we celebrate America's independence, and that's why I'm highlighting some of our native "American" trees.

American beech, Fagus grandifolia

Who doesn’t love the majestic American beech tree? Beech trees are easy to identify by their smooth, thin, very light-gray bark. The range of the American beech is pretty much the same as the American hornbeam, southern Canada to Florida and from the Atlantic states, west across the Mississippi.

At Abbotts Mill Nature Center there are several small beech trees along the “Meadow and Forest” trail, directly behind the Visitors Center.

Some larger, mature beeches can be found during a hike on the “Blair’s Pond” trail and another good place to see some very large American beech trees is along the south bank of Coursey's Pond. In a canoe or kayak you can paddle across the pond right up to the overhanging branches and leaves.

The 2-5” long leaves of the American beech are dark green, with each leaf vein terminating in a tooth at the leaf edge.

Beech is one of only a few trees that hold many of their leaves through the winter, easily seen by their very light brown color through the otherwise nearly naked forest,

Like the hornbeam, the beech is monoecious, with flowers of both sexes on the same tree. The tree produces small, triangular nuts in pairs in a four-lobed husk.

Beech nut husk - photo © Arthur Haines, Native Plant Trust

The nuts ripen in the fall and are eatable in small quantities.

Two 1/2"-3/4" long beech nuts - photo © Arthur Haines, Native Plant Trust

American beech trees can become quite large, commonly reaching 80 feet tall. The largest one in Delaware is in the woods just north of the Dover Sam’s Club. It stands 127 feet tall, with a circumference of 155 inches (about 49.34 inches in diameter). The second largest tree is somewhere in Killen’s Pond State Park, and has a larger circumference at 163 inches but is 13 feet shorter (114 feet).

Beech wood is prized by bowl-turners and for making kitchen impliments. The thin, smooth bark of the beech tree has forever been used to show evidence of a young boy’s love for his sweetheart, or in the case of Dan’l Boone, his prowess at hunting "Bar."

American Beech tree - Killen's Pond State Park


For a tree, you're the worst kind

of friend, remembering everything.

Pale-skinned, slightly brailled, blank

page of pre-adolescence. The way

the smallest knife-slice would darken

with time, rise and widen.

mark was here. Left his.

But these are the digs you're used to,

sufferer of mere presence,

scratched years, scratched loves

we wanted to write on the world

and couldn't trust to an eardrum.

(I scarred you myself long ago with

my own jack-knife, jill-name.

You took her as the morning

unsteamed around me. Took us

as we had to be taken, in.) Old relief,

new reminder, I was young, what could

I have written? Didn't care then, had

to see it scraped out, big letters beneath

your erotic nubs and crotches. O beech,

it's no big riddle: we fell in the forest,

you heard. Quiet, in your own way.

In your own way, spreading the word.


What the heck is this stuff?

Silly String?

Have you ever seen what looks like some plants that have been attacked by Silly String? Often found in moist, swampy areas, this is Dodder (Cuscuta), a plant with no roots that lives entirely off of other plants. Also known by such names as devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, goldthread, hairweed, lady’s laces, strangleweed, witch’s hair and many others. There are over 100 species of Dodders worldwide, with many of them native to the United States, although it can be quite difficult to positively identify a specific species. Around our property, near Woodside, dodder seems to prefer Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), although it is said to not be at all picky which plants it invades.

Dodders produce very tiny seeds that germinate in the soil in the spring and sent up shoots that attach themselves to nearby plants by inserting haustoria (like octapus suckers) into the tender stem. If you find some dodders growing somewhere, look carefully while you slowly pull some of it from its host and you’ll see where some of our horror-film ideas come from.

Dodder with a strangle hold on a plant.

Close-up of dodder showing the haustoria.

Once established, the bottom to the dodder dies, and the plant then lives exclusively off of its host. At this time of year dodders start producing tiny, yellowish or white flowers and then large numbers of tiny seeds. The dodders die out in the winter, but next spring the cycle repeats. The small seeds have a hard, rough seed coat that enables them to survive in the soil up to 20 years or more, depending on the species and environmental conditions.

If you find your garden infested, the dodder should be removed quickly before it can produce seeds (Sorry, but it is usually recommended that you dispose of the host plant as well.) Put it all in in your trash-bin and send it to the landfill.

I'll see you here next week with another American tree. Can you Delawareans guess which one?

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