Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Beech
Nature Bulletin No. 66   May 18, 1946
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Clayton F. Smith, President
Roberts Mann, Superintendent of Conservation

Many people in Cook County have never seen a beech tree. There are none here although, 30 years ago, there was a clump in a woods about a mile north of Edgebrook. There are some in Lake County, in ravines near Highland Park and Fort Sheridan. There are a few at the extreme east end of Indiana Dunes State Park. You see them in Wisconsin; they are abundant in Indiana, and in the hilly country of Southern Illinois along the Wabash, Ohio and lower Mississippi Rivers. In pioneer days they must have been common except in the prairie belt in Illinois, because many early writers speak of how the cattle and hogs thrived on beech "mat" -- the nuts that littered the ground beneath them.

It is a beautiful tree. The trunk is tall and column-like with thin smooth gray bark sometimes mottled with dark spots. There are many fine twigs and the foliage is dense. The fruit is a prickly burr, about 3/4 inch long, which opens to drop two shiny brown 3-sided nuts. These are sweet and edible. The heartwood is reddish, tough and strong but hard to season and not durable in the ground. It is used for furniture veneer, tool handles and creosoted railroad ties, but principally for fuel. It ranks with birch, hard maple and apple for fireplace wood.

The beech is one of the few trees that will not stand domestication. When people habitually trample the ground beneath them, they die. They seem to like wild hilly country, gravelly soil, and require certain soil organisms.

In a bad thunder storm, people used to run for a beech tree. There is a superstition that lightning will not strike a beech. As a matter of fact, they probably are struck as often as any other tree but without being damaged. Because of the fatty content of the wood, their smooth bark, and their many fine twigs and buds, beech trees are good conductors of electricity. Therefore a bolt of lightning is usually carried down into the ground harmlessly.

The beech is one of several interesting trees which occur here in the Chicago area rarely, if at all.

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