The beeches are confined to the northern hemisphere, where they are found on all three continents (for their relatives in the southern hemisphere see Nothofagus). They form a very homogeneous group of trees with smooth, grey trunks. About ten species are usually recognised. Of these F. orientalis from E. Europe and Asia Minor and F. crenata from Japan are very near F. sylvatica, both being distinguished from it by leaflike appendages at the base of the husk. F. orientalis is further distinguished by large, more or less obovate leaves.
They are deciduous, with large, flat, alternate, parallel-ribbed leaves. Flowers unisexual, the two sexes borne on the same tree. Male flowers crowded and numerous in slender-stalked globose heads; stamens eight to sixteen, surrounded by a four- to seven-lobed calyx. Female inflorescence of two flowers, surrounded by numerous bracts united below into a four-parted involucre; styles three. Fruit an ovoid-triangular nut, one or two nuts wholly or partly enclosed in a woody, four-valved involucre (cupule), known colloquially as the husk. The involucre is covered on the outside with appendages which may be prickly or bract-like or (in F. japonica and F. lucida) short and deltoid.
All the beeches are quite hardy and thrive in a light or medium soil. They should be increased by seeds, but the cultivars of the common beech (have to be grafted in spring.