Seeds of the American beech (Fagus grandiflora) have a high oil content and are useful as food for many animal species, including humans. The nuts ripen in the fall and can be harvested for up to two weeks after falling to the ground. American beech is native to North America and is found throughout the Eastern regions of the continent.
American beech seeds, sometimes referred to as "beech nuts" or "beech masts," begin to ripen in September. They are encased in a prickly burr that is less than 2 inches in diameter. The burs often grow in pairs, with each burr containing two or three nuts. The nuts are shiny, triangular and brown. They drop to the ground once they are ripe, where they are often harvested by animals and birds. Once they are on the ground, the nuts deteriorate rapidly unless they are collected and dried.
As Food for Animals
Sweet and edible, beech nuts serve as a food source for many animals and birds. Animals that eat the nuts include white-tailed deer, bear, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, mice and wild pigs. Birds that feed on the seeds are ruffed grouse, wild turkey, blue jays, white-breasted nuthatch, woodpeckers and tufted titmouse. Passenger pigeons, before becoming extinct, fed the seeds to nestlings.
For Human Consumption
Beech nuts are sweetly flavoured and serve as a viable food source for humans. After the nuts are harvested, they can be dry or oil roasted for consumption. They are sometimes eaten alone as a delicacy, or used as a substitute for coffee. Indian tribes, such as the Potawatomi, pounded the roasted seeds into flour for use in breads.
Growing Trees From the Seed
Beech trees can easily grow from seed as long as the seeds are properly prepared and stored. The seeds should be collected from a tree near the intended planting site in mid-September to November. Store the seeds over the winter in a cool, dry place. Seeds can be stratified, or stimulated to germinate, in the spring by placing them in a moist medium, such as peat, for several weeks. Sow them directly into the ground 1/2 inch deep after danger of frost has passed.
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- Pennsylvania State University: American Beech
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: American Beech
- "The Encyclopedia of Fruit & Nuts"; Jules Janick, et al.; 2008
- Illinois Wildflowers: American Beech
- Urbana School District; Potawatomi Food; M. Foley; June 2004
- "Dictionary of Flavors"; Dolf A. De Rovira; 2009