1 November 2023
The Nutty Series: American beech
If you find a small spiny capsule on the forest floor that opens to reveal two to three nuts (in this case two are nicely packed together) you’ve found beechnuts. Without even looking up you can be sure you’re near an American beech (Fagus grandifolia).
The fruit [of Fagus grandifolia] is a triangle-shaped shell containing 2–3 nuts inside, but many of them do not fill in, especially on solitary trees. Beech nuts are sweet and nutritious, can be eaten raw by wildlife and humans, or can be cooked. They can also be roasted and ground into a coffee substitute.— Wikipedia account: American beech, Fagus grandifolia
Beechnuts can be eaten raw? Well, it’s complicated. Foraging Beech Nuts explains that it’s best to let the capsules dry out for 2-3 weeks and then cook the nuts because some people get throat irritation from the raw seed coating.
In Pittsburgh’s parks beechnuts can be hard to find because they are so popular with deer and squirrels. Looking for a beech without looking up? Here’s another clue.
Looking up at American beech trees this month you’ll see brown beech leaves clinging to the branches.
Its buds are distinctive: long, pointed and golden brown like its fall leaves.
The trunk has smooth gray bark.
And at the end of winter, small American beeches have pale, rattling leaves that make them stand out in the forest.
All the beechnuts will be eaten or hidden by the end of winter.
p.s. If you’re my age you probably remember Beech-Nut chewing gum. Were there beech nuts in it? No, that was the name of the company. The gum’s claim to fame was its peppery peppermint zing.
Whatever happened to the candy? The candy division of Beech-Nut went defunct in 1976. Read about the Beech-Nut company here.
(photos by Kate St. John except for the beech drops photo by Scott Zona via Flickr Creative Commons license)