European Beech

Fagus sylvatica

Fagus sylvatica is commonly known as the Common or European Beech. It is a large deciduous tree capable of reaching 50 meters in height with a three meter wide trunk. They can live up to 500 years, although around 200 is most usual. Cultivated trees are usually harvested after 80 to 120 years. Its leaves are often not dropped until the end of winter, a quality which makes it a favourite for high hedges. Although it produces seeds when 10 years old it will not heavily crop until it is three decades old. The ‘mast’ is a favourite of grey squirrels and a variety of seed eating birds like chaffinches and winter visiting brambling. Male flowers are in the form of small catkins and the female flowers produce the beechnuts or mast. It is native to Europe as far east as Turkey where it begins to intergrade with Oriental Beech.

It cannot tolerate water-logged roots but does favour humid areas, particularly where fog forms often. Because of the density of the foliage beech woods tend not to support other flora. However, they are associated with a wide range of fungi.

Funky Facts File: Beech probably did not reach Great Britain until around 4,000 BCE after the Channel was formed so may have been introduced by Stone Age peoples.

A spreading mature beech in Northdown Park © Bo Beolens