Beitr. Naturk. 3: 22. 1788.
Trees, to 20(-30) m. Bark gray, smooth. Twigs glabrous at maturity, or with scattered, straight, silky, simple hairs, prominent ringlike bud scale scars at beginning of each year's growth. Buds narrowly fusiform, to 15-20 mm, apex acute, scales few, silky light brown or glabrous. Leaves: petiole 4-12 mm. Leaf blade ovate or narrowly ovate, rarely obovate, 60-120 × 25-75 mm, base cuneate or subacute, apex acuminate; surfaces abaxially with scattered straight silky hairs, these often concentrated on midrib, occasionally glabrous or much more villous. Fruits: cupule brown to reddish brown, 15-20(-25) mm, opening at maturity to reveal nuts; nut 15-20 × 10-18 mm wide, glabrous or puberulent, often hollow even when full-sized.
Phenology: Flowering spring (Apr–Jun).
Habitat: Rich woods, deciduous forest and mixed broadleaf-conifer forest
Elevation: 0-1000 m
N.B., N.S., Ont., P.E.I., Que., Ark., Ala., Conn., Del., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Ky., La., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Miss., Mo., N.H., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Okla., Pa., R.I., S.C., Tenn., Tex., Vt., Va., W.Va., Wis.
A. J. Rehder (1907) argued for recognition of a southern variety (Fagus grandifolia var. caroliniana) of this somewhat variable species. The northern populations in general are characterized by cupules with denser, longer prickles, somewhat narrower leaves with a greater proportion of cuneate leaf bases, and larger fruits that exceed the cupules slightly. Others (e.g., W. H. Camp 1951) have suggested the existence of three races within United States F. grandifolia, often referred to as gray beech, red beech, and white beech. I follow J. W. Hardin and G. P. Johnson (1985) and others in not recognizing subspecific or varietal variation within eastern United States F. grandifolia. Examination of material over the geographic range of the species suggests that this variation is broadly clinal and can only be demonstrated statistically, with much variation indicative of the other races within most populations. It seems a matter of taste as to whether such variation be recognized with infraspecific names. In addition, forms with more densely pubescent leaves occur locally in both the north and south; they have been formally recognized by some authors. Clearly, additional taxonomic work on variation in F. grandifolia is desirable; it is possible that other characters that could adequately delimit subgeneric/varietal taxa might yet be identified.
Fagus sylvatica Linnaeus, the European Beech, is cultivated in temperate eastern North America and to a lesser extent in western United States and Canada. Escapes are to be expected. Various cultivars are known, particularly purple-leaf, tricolor-leaf, and cut-leaf forms. When encountered, F.s ylvatica is easily distinguished from F. grandifolia by the crenate leaf margin (without distinct teeth) and the softer, less stout, less reflexed spines of the cupule of F. sylvatica.
Native Americans used various preparations from plants of Fagus sylvatica medicinally for worms, consumption, chancre, and heart trouble, to purify the blood, as a poultice for burns and scalds, and as a wash for poison ivy (D. E. Moerman 1986).