The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Friday, February 19, 2010

Poplar or Beech?

I inserted a photo I took of a tree in my front yard in a recent post. I labeled the tree a Poplar. Not being much versed in the trees of the forest (I did the compulsory tree leaf collection in Biology 101 back in 1959), I took the word of my neighbor who usually knows about such things. But a comment by Pat Conlon raised a question in my mind about the accuracy of my label.  Now after some research I've changed my mind about the Poplar label I used to identify the tree in my yard. I'm fairly sure (85%) the tree in question is an American Beech. First, here's the photo again.

Here are some reasons why I believe the tree's an American Beech:
  1. The tree's bottom branches swing low to the ground--bothersome in summer when I'm cutting grass. The photo I took, however, is at an up angle and doesn't show the low branches.
  2. The bark is silvery gray with some dark gray splotches and is thin and relatively smooth. The pictures on the net of American Poplar bark don't look like this at all.
  3. In the picture you can see round, nut like appendages still hanging on the tree limbs even though the pic was made in February. These spherical cupules (thanks wikipedia) are covered with stickers and will prick your finger if you're not careful. You can see the cupules in my photo and according to my research they frequently linger all winter.
  4. The leaves match the Beech leaf pics I located on the net.
  5. There are many Beech trees in my area; a church up the hollow as well as a school are named for the Beech tree. 
Here are some pics of American Beech cupules, bark, and leaves I gathered in my research to reidentify the tree:

If you think I've got this right now, please let me know. If you think the tree is still mislabeled, I would also like to hear from you.


  1. Definitely not a poplar. Aspens and black cottonwoods are related to poplars but do not having drooping branches. Maybe it's a beech. Western beeches are slightly different.

  2. Thanks for weighing in on this Pat. If anyone asks, I'm going with Beech from now on. I'll do one more post on this later and this time I'll try to get some better pics of the tree and the little prickly things that hang on it.

  3. The little spiky pods do look like beech nut pods, and if you open one and find little triangular seeds or nut coverings, dark brown, they definitely are. Cheers!