Beech parents

Beech grove on hillside in Newtown, Connecticut, fall 2008

As it’s just a few days past Mother’s day, this blog has a parenting theme. Corny as it sounds, beech parents care for their children, and grow old surrounded by their families. American beech is one of our few full-size clonal forest trees, a good thing because beech nuts are so sought after by wildlife that very few ever germinate. In Connecticut one often comes upon a stately mature beech tree surrounded by young trees and saplings, all growing well despite the deep forest shade. The young beeches can’t make much food (photosynthate) , but their “mother” feeds them via root connections, until they are tall enough to get ample sunlight themselves. The network of shallow beech roots also excludes weedy competitors.

Seedlings from oak acorns have no such parental food source. If growing in a dark forest, they must remain stunted, barely growing, maybe for decades, until a sunny gap is created when a tree dies or tips over. Only then can they take off and become a sapling and then a tree.

The practical lesson here: plant seedlings of native forest trees like oaks, hickories, ashes and beeches in well-lit areas, not in deep forest shade.