844 Fagus sylvaticaCommon Names: European beech, common beech Family: Fagaceae (beech Family)
The European beech is a large deciduous tree that can reach 100 ft (30.5 m) in height. Most specimens in cultivation are 40-60 ft (12.2-18.3 m) tall with a spread of 30-40 ft (9.1-12.2 m). European beech has a rounded spreading crown and often branches close to the ground. European beech has smooth gray bark and toothed, elliptic leaves, 2-4 in (5.1-10.2 cm) long. The foliage of European beech is shiny dark green, turning rich golden copper in fall. The fruits are 1 in (2.5 cm) woody capsules covered with soft spines. At maturity, they split open in four sections to reveal two oily triangular beechnuts. European beech can be distinguished from American beech (Fagus grandifolia) by its leaves, which have just 5-9 pairs of veins compared to American beech's 9-15 pairs.
More than 30 cultivars have been selected for their form, leaf shape and fall color. 'Aspleniifolia' (fern-leaved beech or cut-leaved beech) has narrow leaves that are dissected, fernlike, into narrow lobes. 'Pendula' (weeping beech) is a very weird and spectacular plant with drooping branches that reach all the way to the ground. Several forms have purplish leaves and these are usually classified as forma purpurea, or purple beeches. 'Dawyck' has a narrow columnar form and purple foliage.
European beech is native to the British Isles, continental Europe and western Asia. In the southern parts of its native range it is confined to higher elevations while the similar oriental beech (Fagus orientalis) grows in the lowlands.
CultureEuropean beech is a long lived, rather slow growing tree that tolerates most soils, from acidic to calcareous, failing only in heavy clays. Light: Seedling and sapling beeches tolerate heavy shade but eventually they must be released to at least partial sun. Cultivars with purple leaves need more sun, whereas those with yellowish foliage do well with more shade. Moisture: The beeches need a well-drained soil and regular watering. Large trees can tolerate the occasional drought. Beeches need more water where summer temperatures are high. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 7. European beech does better in areas with cool summers than either American beech or oriental beech. It suffers in hot climates. The cultivars with purple leaves seem to be the least tolerant of hot summers. Propagation: Sow fresh seed in fall or stratify dried seed for 3-5 months at 40ºF (4.4ºC)before planting. It is difficult to root beeches from cuttings. Cultivars are generally grafted or budded onto seedlings.
European beech is best suited as a specimen or shade tree for parks, golf courses, estates and larger home landscapes. Use this species in areas with cool, wet summers and select the American beech where summers are hotter. European beech responds well to heavy pruning and is widely grown in hedges throughout the British Isles. Beech trees are not tolerant of salt, and they can be killed by de-icing salts used on roads.
European beech is the most popular of the beeches in cultivation. It is definitely among the grandest of specimen trees. As a shade tree for large lawns it has no peers.
Steve Christman 11/4/00; updated 7/21/02, 2/16/04