This time of year is one of the best for seeing small American beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees in forests in Central Indiana.
Beeches tend to keep their light tan colored leaves throughout the winter. You can detect small trees in the woods as you drive along I-65 in southern Indiana or along US 31 to the north. These small trees are a hopeful sign that beech is replacing itself. On the Butler University campus we have lost several very large and very old trees in the last few years, trees we estimate to be over 300 years old. Forty percent of Witness Trees identified in surveys conducted in Marion County in the 1820s were beech. My recent surveys of forest remnants found less than 2 percent remaining, while there has been a great increase in sugar maple. Sugar maple is thought to be on the increase in some areas due to fire suppression. Lack of fire, a natural disturbance in presettlement forests, allows more sugar maples to establish and survive. Sugar maple is easily killed by fire. I have always wondered if loss of passenger pigeons affected seed dispersal and regeneration of beech.