Natural Communities of NH -- Photo Guide


Beech forest  (S4)



Beech forests
occur on coarse till covered hillsides in and south of the White Mountains and south. American beech (Fagus grandifolia) dominates the canopy, sometimes with sparse red oak (Quercus rubra) and red maple (Acer rubrum). Other northern and transition hardwoods may be present, but in relatively low percentages. Understory plants are sparse or absent, with a low abundance, diversity, and frequency of herbs. Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana), a plant that parasitizes beech roots, may be present.  Beech trees produce mast crops of nuts important to many animals, including black bear.

Beech saplings may colonize the understory in gaps that are created by blowdowns, and the species’ ability to stump and root sprout affords it an additional regenerative advantage on harvested sites. Beech trees produce mast crops of beech-nuts that are important to many animals, including black bear. American beech was considerably more abundant in the presettlement forests of northern New England than it is today. Throughout the region, beech-scale nectria canker has had a significant effect on beech in all community types where it occurs.

Soils are derived from coarse washed till and sandy sediments. They are light textured and well to extremely well drained, have moderate to low water holding capacity, and have dry-mesic to mesic water availability. Some soils are Spodosols with significant E horizons. The high lignin and low nitrogen content of beech litter contributes to the unproductive soils with low nutrient availability and sparse herbaceous growth. 

Forests with a wider diversity and abundance of other canopy and herbaceous species are more indicative of hemlock - beech - oak - pine forest, hemlock - oak - northern hardwood forest, or sugar maple - beech - yellow birch forest communities.

Characteristic vegetation:
Beech tends to be the primary or exclusive dominant both in the overstory and in the woody understory. Other northern and transition hardwoods may be present, but in relatively low percentages. Vegetation in the understory is decidedly sparse, with a low abundance, diversity, and frequency of herbs. The saprophytic plant beech-drops (Epifagus virginiana) is exclusive to beech and is present in this community (as well as others that have some abundance of beech). Clubmosses (Lycopodium spp.) and other species noted to occur in hemlock - oak - northern hardwood forests may be present.

Beech stands seem to be the preferred habitat for the rare three-bird’s orchid (Triphora trianthophora). This plant grows in litter-filled hollows below beech trees, and remains below ground the entire season until approximately 4–5 days after the first night in late summer approaching 40° F. It then emerges, flowers, and sets fruit over the course of a week to ten days. Though still somewhat inconspicuous, three-bird orchids are most easily found during their 2–3 day flowering period.


Good examples of this community occur on Chase Hill (Albany), along the Hammond Trail (Albany), and at The Basin (Chatham).

Beech forests often occur as part of larger hemlock - hardwood - pine forest systems. They sometimes occur as part of a larger northern hardwood - conifer forest system.


beech forest on the south side of Mt. Chocorua (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)
beech forest on the south side of Mt. Chocorua (photo by Ben Kimball)

beech forest on the east side of Mt. Chocorua (photo by Ben Kimball)
beech forest
on the east side of Mt. Chocorua (photo by Ben Kimball)

beech forest in the Green Hills Preserve (photo by Ben Kimball)
beech forest
in the Green Hills Preserve (photo by Ben Kimball)


beech forest on the south side of Mt. Chocorua (photo by Ben Kimball)
beech forest on the south side of Mt. Chocorua (photo by Ben Kimball)

beech tree trunk (photo by Ben Kimball)
close-up of a beech tree trunk (photo by Ben Kimball)

bark of a beech tree trunk (photo by Ben Kimball)
bark of a beech tree trunk (photo by Ben Kimball)

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