American beech tree with an abundance of fruits, London, Ontario, 4 September 2011 (photo RG Thorn)
Masting in American Beech, Fagus grandifolia
This is a "mast year" (2011) for the American beech trees in our backyard. Masting is when nearly all of the trees of a species produce an exceptional abundance of fruits - in this case the beechnuts with burry outer hulls that you see in the photo below. The unusual abundance of fruits overwhelms seed predators such as insects and squirrels, so that a greater proportion of the beechnuts have a chance to survive, and eventually germinate and grow as saplings. In our area, the beech, white oaks, walnuts, and white cedars all seem to be having a mast year. How separate trees, and different species, can coordinate their masting is an interesting question!
We've been eating beechnuts
As noted in the post above "Masting in American Beech", our beech trees produced copious amounts of nuts this year (2011). One day our son asked, "can you eat the nuts?" and since I did not know the answer, I told him I would look it up. Like a good parent, I added it to my mental "to-do" list and promptly forgot. I was reminded of the important question when our dear friend Charles Rosenberg, certified nutritionist, artist and food blogger in Los Angeles, California, asked if we were eating the beechnuts. We did a bit of research to make sure they were known to be edible, and then we tried them. They were delicious! Here's what Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America (Fernald, Kinsey and Rollins 1958), has to say about the nuts of American beech, Fagus grandifolia, "The nut, readily opened by the thumb-nail, is one of the sweetest, most delicious products of the northern forests, and although, as a result of modern sofistication, it is rarely if ever seen in our markets, it is not many years since it was regularly brought in large quantities to the country grocery and even to the Boston market." (Disclaimer: Do not eat any wild plants or plant parts unless you are absolutely sure of the identification and edibility of the plant.)
Opened fruit of American beech, "Fagus grandifolia", showing two beechnuts, 8 October 2011 (all photos NM Zitani)
beechnuts removed from outer spiny cupule
one edible seed removed, ready to eat
See more images and video, and read about the boogie-woogie aphid,Grylloprociphilus imbricator, a native insect found on American Beech.