Read all about European beech trees and find out how they vary from the other types of beech trees, where they usually grow, how they reproduce, and how they are used.
The European beech tree is a member of the Fagaceae botanical family. The beech forest natural range occurs, as you guessed it, all over Europe. They grow in abundance in Sweden, France, England, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and many other places as well.
This deciduous tree has an average life expectancy of between 150-200 years, though there are some exceptional trees that can have exceeded 300 years. They provide excellent wood for furniture manufacturing, they produce edible nuts, and they are very popular ornamental trees as well.
What do European Beech Trees Look Like?
Beech tree roots are also known for developing symbiotic relationships with various fungi species. These relationships not only help the mushroom’s health, but the mushrooms in turn help the tree with more efficient up taking of water and nutrients through its roots.
The European beech tree is a rather large tree and is capable of growing to heights of 50 meters. That being said, it is more common for them to be heights between 30 and 40 meters. They will commonly have trunks that are 3 meters in trunk diameter.
The growth pattern of a European beech tree is dependent on its growing location. A tree that is growing in a densely forested area will usually be much taller with a thinner trunk, and with branches that start growing much further up the trunk.
A tree that is growing in an open area with more sunlight with being a much shorter tree with a much wider trunk and the tree will have branch growth that begins much lower down on the trunk.
European beech trees tend to have very smooth bark that is very lightly textured. Older trees will develop horizontal lenticels, whereas younger trees are almost completely bare. These trees have bark that is a very light ash gray color.
European beech tree leaves are simple in shape and alternately arranged on a twig. A leaf has a crenate margin, and there are noticeable white veins on both the underside and the topside of the leaf. These serrated pointy leaves are a bright green color, and they usually emerge in April or May.
European beech trees are deciduous, though not in the same way that other trees are. This tree will not drop its leaves in the fall, but rather in the late winter or springtime, right before new leaves emerge. This type of leaf drop is called marcescence. It makes for a tree that remains bright and lively during the winter months, and this makes them a very popular landscape tree.
How do European Beech Trees Reproduce?
Beech trees are monoecious, meaning that both female flowers and male flowers are borne on the same tree. Female flowers blossom in pairs, and male flowers blossom as catkins. A catkin is a cluster of drooping flowers.
A catkin droops so that pollen is easily released by the wind, and blown into the opening of a female flower. This is called wind pollination. Though European beech trees have all of the reproductive organs they need on one tree, trees are often pollinated by other trees to encourage genetic diversity.
Once a tree is pollinated, it will bear fruit in the form of a small triangular nut, which is called a beechnut. There are 2 nuts in each cupule, and a nut will usually mature in the autumn that is 6 months after the original fertilization. These nuts are covered in an odd husk that is covered in spiny bracts.
Most European beech trees won’t start producing seeds until about 10 years after sprouting. They will enter their most productive seed production time around the age of 30.
Trees to experience the most productive seed crops years when there has been a very hot, dry, and sun-filled summer. Though large crops will usually occur once every 2 years.
What Are Some Other Types of Beech Trees?
The Copper/Purple Beech Tree (Fagus sylvatica purpurea)
Known as either the copper beech or the purple beech, these trees all come from one single mutated European beech tree. They are now sold as cultivars all over the world for their beautiful leaves the emerge as a copper color, then slowly change into a purple or deep spinach green color by the summer.
The American Beech Tree (Fagus grandifolia)
The common beech or American beech trees are native to the eastern side of North America. They are medium-sized trees, usually reaching heights of 20-35 meters. They have regular dark green leaves but are noticeable by their winter buds that are rather long, and some have likened to cigars!
The Oriental Beech Tree (Fagus Orientalis)
Oriental beech trees are native to eastern Europe and western Asia. They are extremely closely related to the European beech tree and are pretty well indistinguishable from one another. They are very valued as fuelwood for their dense and hot burning firewood.
The Tricolor Beech Tree (Fagus sylvatica ‘tricolor’)
Tri-color beech trees are a cultivar of European beech trees. They have very low hanging and smooth branches. They are admired for having stunning fall colors, with one tree usually hosting 3 different colors; purple, green, and pink.
The Weeping Beech Tree (Fagus sylvatica ‘pendula’)
Weeping beech trees are noted for having very low hanging, sweeping, pendulous branches. They are so low and dense that oftentimes the trunk is not at all visible. They are native to North America, and will only reach heights of 25 meters.
The Dwarf Beech Tree (Fagus sylvatica ‘tortuosa’)
Dwarf beech trees are a rare cultivar of beech trees. They can only be found in Sweden, and they are noticed for having a very distinctive twisted trunk, and gnarled and twisted branches as well.
Where do European Beech Trees Grow?
The natural growing range of the European beech tree occurs throughout Turkey, Portugal, England, France, Spain, Sicily, and Sweden. In the more southern parts of their growing zone, this beech tree will only be found growing in mountain forests occurring between 600 and 1800 meters in altitude.
They do not tolerate soil flooding, and so they will more commonly be found growing on hillsides rather than in valley basins or near bodies of water.
What are the Growing Conditions of European Beech Trees?
European beech trees have several specific growing requirements, but the soil is not one of them. They can grow in alkaline or acidic soils, they can be fertile or infertile, rich soil, they can be hard clay soils or soft loamy soil. The main soil requirement is that it is well-drained.
Young European beeches prefer to exist in a little bit of shade. They will perform alright in full sun, but it is not preferred. Older European beeches can tolerate full sun. Mature beech forests are often so dense that there are few plants that can survive in the understory with that little amount of sun.
These trees prefer to live in a more humid atmosphere and really tend to thrive in areas that experience a lot of yearly fog.
How are European Beech Trees Used?
European beech tree wood is valued for having a very fine and short-grain. This makes the wood very easy to work with, and it is resistant to splitting and compression.
This wood is often used for manufacturing flooring, staircases, furniture, parquetry, and it is valued in the paper pulp industry as well. Not only that, European beech wood is a great option for wood smoking thanks to its high heat capacity and attractive smell.
Beech nuts have historically been known to be an important source of food for both humans and animals. Though they are high in tannins and are not eaten in large amounts by either species.
Well properly processed, beechnuts are a great source of nutrients, and they have traditionally been ground and made into flour!