There was a big wind storm last week, it finally blew the remaining leaves off the trees. This time of year when it becomes cold and sunny I like to walk in the parks and along the streets and enjoy the bare trees and their forms. It reminds me of when I was in school learning about the trees and shrubs commonly grown here. I gained a new appreciation of the bark and buds and the variation that there is. One of my new favorite trees has long sharp buds and smooth grey bark which is seen as perfect to carve your initials in. The Common or Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica) is the tree I am referring to and long may they live.
Fagus sylvatica are a European tree and are found growing in most areas from southern Sweden south to central Italy, west into France and northern Portugal and Spain. In the east they are found in north-west Turkey where they meet out with Fagus orientalis the Asian representative of the species which they hybridise with. It is interesting that in England where Beech Trees are most often associated with, it is one of the later places that they naturalized in reaching there after the last ice age. We are not sure how they got there but it is possible that came with early people who may have brought the seeds as a form of food which was highly nutritious and transportable.
Common Beech trees have provided many sources of useful goods over the years. Very early on the bark was used to carve runes. The wood is brittle and has short grains and is not strong or durable. It is more used for handles, small articles, turnery, parquet flooring and Bentwood furniture. Charcoal made from the branches was used for coloring and gunpowder production. The wood is considered one of the best for burning as fuel as it gives one of the highest volumes of heat.
The seeds of Copper Beech have been used for emergency food in the past and processed into flour. Eating large amounts can be slightly toxic due to the tannins found in the seeds. Mostly the nuts have been used for feeding woodland animals and pigs, chicken and turkey for commercial use. High quantities of oil can be extracted from well-ripened nuts(17-20%) and was used for food and heating in the 19th century. Mainly the use of trees now is ornamental now.
Now we associate the Copper Beech with large estates and parks and institutions which have the space and maybe are old enough to have large specimens of these trees. When in the open and not competing for sun the become truly huge trees which have many delicate aspects to them. The leaves are small, thin, fine, glossy smooth and at all times of the year are beautiful to look at. They have brilliant color when emerging from their tight sharp pointy buds in the spring and later in autumn turn golden and coppery. In winter the leaves of young trees may stay on the tree and protect it, their coppery color is an unusual site as well as sound in the wind. The branches are also fine and thin giving the tree an overall delicate feeling.
The Copper Beech makes a fine tree for a larger property or garden. The like to grow in an area with good humidity or some precipitation throughout the year. They like well-drained soil which is slightly on the acidic side but will tolerate chalky soil as long as it is not clay heavy. Beech grow their best and reach their full potential in a site which gives them full sun. The roots are shallow and help keep the soil around them more fertile by absorbing large amounts of potash which is stored in the leaves of the tree.
Common Beech grow to be massive trees over many years and can reach 43m(140ft) high by 40m(130ft) wide. They are rated as slow growers but like most trees grow faster when very young. They are quite cold hardy and are rated as zone 5 or tolerating 25c(-20f) with some cultivars being slightly more tender.
As Fagus sylvatica have been grown since ancient times many fine forms are available for enjoyment in your garden. You can choose from color forms of green, golden, purple, rosy and even variegated. Their several narrow forms which are much used as street trees. Weeping forms are often seen as specimens and come in very spectacular in the right setting. There are also interesting leaf forms such as ‘Asplenifolia’ or ‘Rotundifolia’ and the ‘heterophylla’ group. These trees are usually used as specimens or accents, the make excellent park and street trees as they have few pests or disease and are long-lived. Named varieties of Beech trees are usually grown from cuttings that are grafted. You can also grow them from seed which can be collected and stratified at home.
finding the Fine Fagus:
Check Wiki first: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fagus_sylvatica
Next find out about the myths and lore: http://forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=104751