American witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a common shrub found in beech-maple mesic forests. It was used by native peoples for thousands of years and later by American settlers. Although witch hazel is not as popular as it was in the 1900s, it is still used to prevent infection from cuts, soothe insect bites and sunburn, relieve pain and swelling, reduce acne, tone skin, and as an aftershave.
There are several hundred to a few thousand occurrences statewide. Some documented occurrences have good viability and many are protected on public land or private conservation land. This community has statewide distribution and includes several very large, high quality, old-growth examples. The current trend of this community is probably declining due to moderate and imminent threats related to beech bark disease and development pressure.
The number and acreage of beech-maple mesic forests in New York have declined moderately in recent decades as a result of logging, agriculture, and other development.
The number and acreage of beech-maple mesic forests in New York have probably declined substantially from historical numbers likely correlated with past logging, agiculture, and other development.
Threats to forests in general include changes in land use (e.g., clearing for development), forest fragmentation (e.g., roads), and invasive species (e.g., insects, diseases, and plants). Other threats may include over-browsing by deer, and air pollution (e.g., ozone and acidic deposition). When occurring in expansive forests, the largest threat to the integrity of beech-maple mesic forests are activities that fragment the forest into smaller pieces. These activities, such as road building and other development, restrict the movement of species and seeds throughout the entire forest, an effect that often results in loss of those species that require larger blocks of habitat (e.g., black bear, bobcat, certain bird species). Additionally, fragmented forests provide decreased benefits to neighboring societies from services these societies often substantially depend on (e.g., clean water, mitigation of floods and droughts, pollination in agricultural fields, and pest control) (Daily et al. 1997). Beech-maple mesic forests are threatened by beech bark disease and beech leaf disease. Beech bark disease causes significant mortality and defect in American beech (Fagus grandifolia). The disease results when bark, attacked and altered by the beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga), is invaded and killed by fungi, primarily Nectria coccinea var. faginata and sometimes N. galligena (Houston and O'Brien 1983).
Management should focus on activities that help maintain regeneration of the species associated with this community. Develop a plan to eliminate or control beech bark disease. Deer have been shown to have negative effects on forest understories (Miller et al. 1992, Augustine & French 1998, Knight 2003) and management efforts should strive to ensure that regenerating trees and shrubs are not so heavily browsed that they cannot replace overstory trees. Avoid cutting old-growth examples and encourage selective logging in areas that are under active forestry.
Strive to minimize fragmentation of large forest blocks by focusing development on forest edges, minimizing the width of roads and road corridors extending into forests, and designing cluster developments that minimize the spatial extent of the development. Development projects with the least impact on large forests and all the plants and animals living within these forests are those built on brownfields or other previously developed land. These projects have the added benefit of matching sustainable development practices (for example, see: The President's Council on Sustainable Development 1999 final report, US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification process at http://www.usgbc.org/).
Inventory any remaining large and/or old-growth examples across the state.
Critically compare this community to maple-basswood rich mesic forest and confirm that occurrences of each are properly classified. Regularly assess the presence and degree of impact that beech bark disease has on this forest community.
This community is widespread throughout Upstate New York. It is probably represented by different ecoregional variants. It forms the matrix forest of the Northern Appalachian Ecoregion in the Adirondacks and Tug Hill. Beech-maple mesic forest is also present in the Lower New England, the Great Lakes, and the High Allegheny Plateau ecoregions. This community is absent from the North Atlantic Coast Ecoregion where it is replaced by the similar coastal oak-beech forest.
This somewhat broadly-defined community is probably widespread throughout the northeastern U.S. The range is estimated to span north to southern Canada, west to Minnesota, southwest to Indiana and Tennessee, southeast to Virginia, and northeast to Nova Scotia.
Beech-maple mesic forest communities are closed-canopy hardwood forests with codominating sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and American beech (Fagus grandifolia). This is a broadly defined community type with several regional and edaphic variants. These forests occur on moist, well drained, usually acid soils. There are many spring ephemerals that bloom before the canopy trees leaf out. Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) may be present at a low density. In the Adirondacks a few red spruce (Picea rubens) may also be present.
The codominance of American beech and sugar maple and a variety of herbaceous species, including a good display of spring ephermals, identify this community. Typically there is also an abundance of tree seedlings, especially of sugar maple; beech and sugar maple saplings are often the most abundant small trees in the understory, along with shrubs such as American witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides).
Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 320 feet and 3,900 feet.
Because the key to distinguishing a beech-maple mesic forest from related types is its vascular plant composition and diversity, it is easiest to identify the community during the growing season, from late May through summer. Striking seasonal leaf color can be enjoyed in the fall.
This New York natural community encompasses all or part of the concept of the following International Vegetation Classification (IVC) natural community associations. These are often described at finer resolution than New York's natural communities. The IVC is developed and maintained by NatureServe.
This New York natural community falls into the following ecological system(s). Ecological systems are often described at a coarser resolution than New York's natural communities and tend to represent clusters of associations found in similar environments. The ecological systems project is developed and maintained by NatureServe.
Acer rubrum var. rubrum (common red maple)
Acer saccharum (sugar maple)
Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch)
Betula lenta (black birch)
Fagus grandifolia (American beech)
Fraxinus americana (white ash)
Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam, ironwood)
Picea rubens (red spruce)
Prunus serotina var. serotina (wild black cherry)
Quercus rubra (northern red oak)
Tsuga canadensis (eastern hemlock)
Acer pensylvanicum (striped maple)
Carpinus caroliniana ssp. virginiana (musclewood, ironwood, American hornbeam)
Cornus alternifolia (pagoda dogwood, alternate-leaved dogwood)
Hamamelis virginiana (witch-hazel)
Viburnum lantanoides (hobblebush)
Viburnum acerifolium (maple-leaved viburnum)
Ageratina altissima var. altissima (common white snakeroot)
Aralia nudicaulis (wild sarsaparilla)
Arisaema triphyllum ssp. triphyllum (common jack-in-the-pulpit)
Brachyelytrum erectum (southern shorthusk)
Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)
Dennstaedtia punctilobula (hay-scented fern)
Dryopteris carthusiana (spinulose wood fern)
Dryopteris intermedia (evergreen wood fern, fancy wood fern, common wood fern)
Dryopteris marginalis (marginal wood fern)
Epifagus virginiana (beech-drops)
Erythronium americanum ssp. americanum (yellow trout-lily)
Eurybia divaricata (white wood-aster)
Huperzia lucidula (shining firmoss)
Lysimachia borealis (starflower)
Maianthemum canadense (Canada mayflower)
Maianthemum racemosum ssp. racemosum (false Solomon's-seal)
Medeola virginiana (Indian cucumber-root)
Mitchella repens (partridge-berry)
Oclemena acuminata (whorled wood-aster)
Oxalis montana (northern wood sorrel)
Podophyllum peltatum (may-apple)
Polygonatum biflorum var. biflorum (small Solomon's-seal)
Polygonatum pubescens (hairy Solomon's-seal)
Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)
Solidago caesia var. caesia (blue-stemmed goldenrod, wreath goldenrod)
Tiarella cordifolia (foamflower)
Trillium erectum (purple trillium, stinking Benjamin)
Trillium undulatum (painted trillium)
Uvularia sessilifolia (wild-oats, sessile-leaved bellwort)
This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Beech-Maple Mesic Forest. Each bar represents the amount of "coverage" for all the species growing at that height. Because layers overlap (shrubs may grow under trees, for example), the shaded regions can add up to more than 100%.
Augustine, A.J. and L.E. French. 1998. Effects of white-tailed deer on populations of an understory forb in fragmented deciduous forests. Conservation Biology 12:995-1004.
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Information for this guide was last updated on: March 21, 2022
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Beech-maple mesic forest. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/beech-maple-mesic-forest/. Accessed March 31, 2023.