Beech

Beech Tree

Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica) is one of our most iconic woodland trees growing tall and broad. In Autumn it turns a shining golden brown as its leaves die, littering the woodland floor with its nuts (known as 'mast').

Beech wood is used for furniture and ornaments, and, from the 18th century onwards, straight-trunked, uncoppiced trees became a more frequent site in woods and parks - ideal for timber.

Identification

Bark and Leaves
Beech can be recognised by its shiny, soft oval leaves, smooth, grey bark, torpedo-shaped buds and its large, hairy fruit that contains the beech nuts.

The bark is smooth, thin and grey, often with slight horizontal etchings. The reddish brown, torpedo-shaped leaf buds form on short stalks, and have a distinctive criss-cross pattern.

Young leaves are lime green with silky hairs, which become darker green and lose their hairs as they mature. They are 4–9cm long, stalked, oval and pointed at the tip, with a wavy edge. 

Height and Age
Beech can live for hundreds of years with coppiced stands living for more than 1000 years. Mature trees grow to a height of more than 40m, and develop a huge domed crown.

Where to find it
Widespread in southern and central England, and widely planted elsewhere.
It usually grows on drier, free-draining soils, such as chalk, limestone and light loams

Woodland ecology
Beech woodland is shady and is characterised by a dense carpet of fallen leaves and mast husks, which prevent most woodland plants from growing. Only specialist shade tolerant plants can survive beneath a beech canopy.

It makes an important habitat for many butterflies and beech foliage is eaten by the caterpillars of a number of moths, including the barred hook-tip, clay triple-lines and olive crescent. The seeds are eaten by mice, voles, squirrels and birds.

Because beech trees live for so long they provide habitats for many deadwood specialists such as hole-nesting birds and wood-boring insects. The bark is often home to a variety of fungi, mosses and lichens.