Beech Trees: A Favorite Sign of Winter

Before winter leaves us next week, I wanted to capture one of my favorite harbingers of winter: the persistent, caramel colored leaves on small American beech trees.

American beech trees (and several species of oaks) do not lose their leaves until spring, as new leaves bud.  The copper-brown leaves look like feathers or crinkly tissue paper against the backdrop of a stand of tall hardwoods stripped clean of leaves with its hard, cold hues of gray and brown.  The contrast is a welcome sign of the arrival of winter.  Even through the snow the beech will keep her leaves like a fashionable winter’s coat.

It is not known exactly why beech trees keep their leaves throughout the winter.  One theory is that they provide nutrients for the tree during the winter.  Another theory is that this is an evolutionary impulse that prevents disease in the winter’s leaf litter.  Whatever the reason, they are a wonderful sight!

If you would like to learn more about beech trees, you must checkout this post by Marcia Bonta, a Pennsylvanian nature writer.  She will give you more information than you can imagine about this great tree and says it all with the most beautiful prose.  A wonderful post!

The photo in this post was taken by my 13-year old son this past week in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  I like how his proximity to the beech has caused an interesting distortion to the forest in the background.