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A Promising Fall Beechnut Crop

Beechnuts, high in protein and fat, are the primary fall and winter food for many forest wildlife species including Red, Gray and Flying Squirrels, Eastern Chipmunks, Black Bears, Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice, Wild Turkeys, and Ruffed and Spruce Grouse.  The dependence of these animals on this food source makes them vulnerable to the American Beech’s cyclical nut production.

In the Northeast, American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) mast crops (amount of beechnuts produced by beech trees) have a two-year cycle: one year they produce an overabundance of nuts and the following year very few. Among other animals, Black Bears rely on these nuts to sustain themselves over the winter.  That a bear’s nutritional health affects its reproductive health was documented in  a study in Maine that showed that the mean proportion of female bears producing cubs decreased to 22% when a denning period followed a poor beechnut crop. During denning periods following good beechnut production, 80% of the productively available females produced cubs.

Many American Beech trees in the Northeast suffer from Beech Bark Disease which has seriously compromised their ability to produce nuts.  Invasive scale insects (Cryptococcus fagisuga) invade a tree. Through a presently unknown mechanism, excessive feeding by these insects causes two different fungi (Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima) to produce annual cankers on the bark of the tree. This disease decreases nut production, and eventually lesions around the tree girdle it and causes the tree’s death. The diminishing number of healthy beech trees will have a significant effect on consumers of beechnuts as well as a broad array of other organisms.

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13 responses

  1. Alice

    We have several very large Beeches. I didn’t know about the Beech Bark Disease. Hmmm…Flying Squirrels love nuts, it somehow came back in the house Saturday night, for the 3rd time this summer (first 2 times because I did’t have a screen in my window)…it gnawed a hole in the birdseed bag, which is in the diningroom & had it’s fill of peanuts. We only saw it once, this time…an opened window & it left that night.

    August 28, 2019 at 8:29 am

  2. janetpesaturo

    It’s great to see decent quantities of beech nuts, acorns, and hickory nuts this year but there are few animals to eat them, due to last year’s die off an account of the poor mast crops. The hazelnuts in my yard haven’t even been touched yet, which is very unusual.

    August 28, 2019 at 8:40 am

    • I’ve noticed that as well, Janet. Numbers will build, I assume.

      August 28, 2019 at 12:03 pm

  3. Barbara Bates

    Dear Mary,

    Please help me understand how this works: You said, “The diminishing number of healthy ash trees will have a significant effect on consumers of beechnuts as well as a broad array of other organisms.”

    Thanks, B

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    August 28, 2019 at 8:43 am

    • janetpesaturo

      I think she meant diminishing number of healthy beech trees.

      August 28, 2019 at 9:26 am

      • Right you are, Janet!

        August 28, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    • Sorry, Barbara. Totally a typo. I was thinking of both tree species having their own problems. It should have said “beech!” Thanks for catching that!

      August 28, 2019 at 12:04 pm

  4. Sue Wetmore

    In addition to beechnuts I have seen wild apple trees laden with fruit as well as cedar with cones.

    August 28, 2019 at 8:47 am

  5. Martha

    Mary, two things.

    I assume someone else has already mentioned to you that in this post you leave in the word ash instead of beech here, “The diminishing number of healthy ash trees will have a significant effect on consumers of beechnuts as well as a broad array of other organisms,” which I assume is an error.

    Additionally, my husband has noticed a dearth of yellow jackets this year and asked me to ask you about that.  Have you or anyone noticed that as well?

    Thank you, as always.

    Martha

    August 28, 2019 at 9:33 am

    • Hi Martha,
      I’m so sorry for the confusion. I wasn’t paying close enough attention to notice that what I was thinking was not what I was writing! I did mean beeches!

      August 28, 2019 at 12:05 pm

  6. Bill On The Hill

    Excellent post Mary…Heading outside now, work to do & just a quick comment. I have several bear baskets on my property as evidenced by the bear claw marks on these groups of beech. I have seen (2) young black bears in the past few days consuming very ripe chokecherries in my upper fields. I saw (1) young bear just outside the kitchen window two days back now & heading for the woods. I think they are siblings & are experiencing being out on their own for the 1st time this season…
    Bill… :~)

    August 28, 2019 at 10:46 am

  7. Diane Alexander

    We have a large Beechnut tree on the other side of the driveway. It’s a beautiful tree, but the nuts are very small. The squirrels, chipmonks, mice, etc. love them. 🙂 XOXO Love you, Di

    August 28, 2019 at 11:08 pm

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