A deciduous tree up to 100 ft high, occasionally almost 150 ft, with a smooth grey trunk, sometimes of enormous thickness – 6 to 8 ft through; young shoots at first silky-hairy, soon becoming glabrous. Leaves with five to nine pairs of veins, oval, inclined to ovate, pointed, unequally rounded at the base, ordinarily 2 to 31⁄2 in. long, 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. wide, but as much as 5 in. by 3 in., obscurely toothed or merely unevenly undulated at the margin, midrib and veins hairy, especially beneath; stalk downy, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long. Nuts triangular, 5⁄8 in. long, usually a pair enclosed in a hard, woody, pear-shaped, four-lobed husk, covered with bristles and 3⁄4 to 1 in. long, solitary on an erect downy stalk about as long as itself.
Native of Europe, including most of southern England (planted and naturalised elsewhere in the British Isles). Few trees are more pleasing than a well-grown beech, either in the wide, spreading form it takes when growing in an isolated position, or when, in close association with others of its kind, and drawn up by them, it forms a tall, smooth, column-like trunk. The largest of the former kind in Britain was the famous beech at Newbattle Abbey, 100 ft high, 130 ft in diameter, the trunk 21 ft in girth; of this only a layer now remains. Of the latter the finest was in Ashridge Park, Bucks, known as the ‘Queen Beech’ – 130 to 140 ft high. The young foliage of the beech is one of the most beautiful objects in nature in May – a tender shimmering green of a shade not quite matched by any other tree.
Of the notable trees mentioned by Elwes and Henry, only Pontey’s beech at Woburn has been traced. In 1837, according to Loudon, its dimensions were 100 × 121⁄2 ft at 4 ft, with a clear bole of 50 ft; in 1903 it was the same height and 141⁄2 ft in girth (Elwes and Henry measurement); a Forestry Commission measurement for 1956 was 110 × 161⁄4 ft. The following specimens have been recorded in recent years: Kew, east of Lake, 105 × 143⁄4 ft, clear bole 20 ft (1965); Kenwood House, Highgate, London, 100 × 181⁄2 ft and 110 × 131⁄4 ft (1964); Welford Park, Berks, 105 × 17 ft (1966); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, in the Valley, 80 × 163⁄4 ft, and by the Lake, 100 × 161⁄4 ft (1965); Handcross Park, Sussex, 95 × 23 ft (pollard) (1961); Beauport Park, Sussex, 91 × 19 ft (1965); Knole Park, Kent, 115 × 181⁄2 ft (1969); Eridge Park, Kent, 80 × 26 ft (pollard) (1958); Bramshill Park, Hants, 90 × 20 ft (1965); Tottenham House, Savernake, Wilts, 110 × 143⁄4 ft, clear bole 40 ft, and another 100 × 151⁄4 ft (1967); London Ride, Savernake, 100 × 16 ft and 110 × 16 ft (1967); Wilton House, Wilts, 115 × 191⁄2 ft (1961); Longleat, Wilts, 118 × 201⁄2 ft (1971); Westonbirt House, Glos., 100 × 161⁄4 ft (1967); Kingscote Wood, Glos., 129 × 163⁄4 ft (1961); Nettlecombe, Som., 75 × 231⁄2 ft (pollard) (1959); Woolverston Hall, Ipswich, 95 × 20 ft (1968); Dunscombe Park, Yorks, 134 × 161⁄2 ft (1956); Bramham Park, Yorks, 100 × 241⁄2 ft (pollard) (1958); Studley Royal, Yorks, 125 × 143⁄4 ft (1966); Yester House, E. Lothian, 105 × 201⁄4 ft, clear bole 20 ft (1967); Galloway House, Wigtons., 100 × 183⁄4 ft (1967); Elioch, Dumfr., 75 × 193⁄4 ft (1954); Blairquhan, Ayrs., 94 × 17 ft (1954); Canon House, Dingwall, Ross, 95 × 251⁄4 ft (pollard) (1956); Headfort, Co. Meath, Eire, 125 × 151⁄4 ft (1966).
The beech has produced many varieties, some of which have first been noticed in gardens, others in the wild. The following is a selection of the more important:
cv. ‘Albomarginata’. – Leaves margined with white (Gard. Chron., Vol. 26 (1899), p. 434). A tree at Kew with narrowish, white-margined leaves has largely reverted. There are other variants with leaves blotched and striped with white, for which the collective name is F. s. f. albo-variegata (West.) Domin.
cv. ‘Ansorgei’. – A shrubby variety with brownish purple, lanceolate, almost entire leaves 3⁄8 to 3⁄4 in. wide. It is a hybrid between a purple beech and some form of cut-leaved beech, which according to Schwerin was F. s. comptoniifolia (see under ‘Asplenifolia’). Raised by Ansorge at the Flottbeck nurseries, Hamburg.
cv. ‘Asplenifolia’. Fern-leaved Beech. – Of all the forms of beech marked by differences in shape of leaf, this is the handsomest. In this variety the leaf assumes various shapes; sometimes it is long and narrow (4 in. long by 1⁄4 in. wide), sometimes deeply and pinnately lobed, some of the lobes penetrating to the midrib; between these two, numerous intermediate shapes occur, often on the same branch. Unlike many of the varieties of beech with curious foliage, this makes a fine shapely tree, and it is a distinct ornament to any garden.
The common fern-leaved beech of British gardens is very consistent in its characters and may well represent a single clone. Two further features of this tree are the sprays of linear leaves produced at the ends of most of the season’s growths; and the twiggy bunches of shoots that sprout from the branches inside the crown. It tends to revert here and there but it is on the whole stable. It is almost certainly the same as the F. sylvatica asplenifolia of Loddiges’ nursery, who listed it in their catalogue for 1804. A tree in the Knap Hill nursery, believed to have come from France in 1826, belongs to this variety. This tree measures 54 × 111⁄2 ft (1961); the largest trees in Britain, although probably younger, are taller than this (up to 80 ft or slightly more high) and some are larger in girth (up to 13 ft).
In Britain, the fern-leaved beech has usually been known as F. sylvatica beterophylla, but Loudon, who published this name, placed under it, in addition to asplenifolia, another beech listed by Loddiges as F. s. laciniata. So it seems preferable to revert to the original name, which is, after all, the Latin equivalent of the common name, and the one used by continental authorities. Rehder included the fern-leaved beech in f. laciniata (q.v.) but it is very distinct from the beech originally described under that name.
Other variants are known which bear some resemblance to the common fern-leaved beech. In Arboretum Muscaviense (1864), Kirchner mentions F. sylvatica ‘Comptoniifolia’, with finer foliage than in ‘Asplenifolia’. There are two specimens in the Kew Herbarium which answer to this description in that they have a greater proportion of linear leaves and the lobed leaves are very slender.
Fagus atropunicea See f. purpurea.
cv. ‘Aurea Pendula’. – Leaves yellow when young, the colouring best developed in a shady situation. It is a sport from the slender, erect growing form of weeping beech, and was raised by J. G. van der Bom at Oudenbosch, Holland, shortly before 1900.
cv. ‘Aurea Variegata’. – Leaves margined with golden yellow (Gard. Chron., Vol. 26 (1899) p. 434). A beech under this name was listed earlier by the Lawson Company, Edinburgh. William Paul of Waltham Cross had a gold, margined beech which he called F. s. foliis aureis and claimed to be the best of the variegated beeches. It may be the same as ‘Paul’s Gold-margined’, which received an Award of Merit in 1902 (Gard. Chron. (1867), p. 237; Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 27, xcii). The name for gold-variegated beeches in general is F. s. f. luteo-variegata (West.) Domin.
cv. ‘Bornyensis’. – A small tree with very pendulous branches reaching to the ground and forming a densely-leaved cone. The original tree grew in a garden near the church at Borny in France and is believed to have come from a neighbouring forest; it was 35 ft in 1910. It was propagated by Simon-Louis Frères, and the largest example at Kew came from that firm in 1900.
cv. ‘Cochleata’. – Leaves concave beneath, broadest above the middle tapering to an acute base; margins with small, pointed, slightly toothed lobules, best developed near the apex. It was in commerce by 1842 (Loudon, Encyclopaedia of Trees and Shrubs, p. 1118). A similar beech was distributed by Simon-Louis Frères as F. s. undulata.
cv. ‘Cristata’. – Leaves bunched, very shortly stalked, coarsely triangular-toothed, crumpled, the apex decurved. In commerce by 1836; also known as F. s. crispa. The largest specimen of this variety on record grows at Chiddingly, Horsted Keynes, Sussex; it measures 80 × 63⁄4 ft (1967). There are other examples of a good size at Wakehurst Place, Sussex; Hergest Croft, Heref.; and Capenoch, Dumfries.
cv. ‘Cuprea’. See under f. purpurea.
cv. ‘Dawyck’. – The original tree of this well-known fastigiate variety grows in the garden of Lt-Col. A. Balfour at Dawyck, Peeblesshire, and now measures 82 × 8 ft (1966). It is believed to have originated in the woods there and to have been moved to its present position by the house around the middle of the last century, at which time the property belonged to the Nasmyth family. The tree first came to notice early this century when F. R. S. Balfour, the new owner of Dawyck, distributed scions to Kew and other gardens, around 1907. Scions were also given to Herr Hesse, of Weener, Hanover, and it was he who first described the Dawyck beech in 1912 and his firm that first distributed it commercially.
The Dawyck beech is usually known as ‘Fastigiata’, but this name belongs to some fastigiate beech cultivated by Simon-Louis Frères and mentioned by Koch in his Dendrologie (Vol. 2, part 2 (1873), p. 17).
cv. ‘Fastigiata’. See cv. ‘Dawyck’.
cv. ‘Foliis Variegatis’. – According to Loudon, the beech distributed by Loddiges under this name had ‘the leaves variegated with white and yellow, interspersed with some streaks of red and purple’.
cv. ‘Grandidentata’. – Leaves coarsely but regularly toothed, cuneate at the base, slightly concave beneath. Perhaps a branch-sport from a fern-leaved beech. The fine specimen at Kew came from James Booth’s nurseries at Flottbeck near Hamburg in 1872 and almost certainly represents the true clone.
var. heterophylla Loud. See cv. ‘Asplenifolia’.
f. laciniata (Pers.) Domin F. s. var. laciniata Vignet ex Pers.; F. laciniata F. W. Schmidt, nom. event.; F. s. f. quercifolia Schneid; F. s. var. heterophylla Loud., in part; F. s. quercoides Kirchn., not Pers. – Leaves ovate-lanceolate, cuneate at the base, slenderly tapered at the apex, deeply and regularly serrated, the serrations seven to nine on each side, acute, the sinuses extending about one-third of the way to the midrib. This variant was noticed around 1792 as a branch-sport on a hedging beech, growing on the Tetschen estate in the mountains between Bohemia and Saxony. It was described by Vignet in 1795 (in F. W. Schmidt’s Samml. Phys.-Oekon. Aufs., Vol. 1, pp. 175-83) and the above description is made from the excellent figure accompanying the article. Vignet did not actually name this variety but Persoon did so in 1800 (Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond., Vol. 5, p. 232). Whether this sport was ever propagated and distributed cannot be ascertained, though Vignet evidently expected that it would be, and F. W. Schmidt, the Bohemian botanist, added a footnote saying that this beech, which he too had seen, would no doubt shortly be appearing in nursery catalogues under the name F. laciniata. The cultivar-name for the original clone would be ‘Laciniata’.
A tree at Kew, received in 1930 under the name F. s. quercifolia, agrees very well with Vignet’s figure. So too does a beech grown under the same name in the Trompenburg Arboretum, Rotterdam, judging from a specimen of the leaves kindly sent by Mr Hoey-Smith. There are three other beeches at Kew, also received as F. s. quercifolia, which should probably be referred to the f. laciniata, though they have leaves rather more deeply incised than in the type and occasionally produce a few narrow, undivided leaves at the tips of the shoots, in these respects inclining towards ‘Asplenifolia’ (q.v.).
f. latifolia Kirchn. F. sylvatica var. macrophylla Dipp., not Hohenacker – This appears to be the correct designation for trees which bear larger leaves than normal but in other characters resemble the common beech. In 1898, the King of Denmark’s gardener sent to Kew a variety that has been called ‘Prince George of Crete’. When young these trees had leaves up to 7 in. long, 51⁄2 in. wide, but they are now somewhat smaller, though still strikingly large. The possibility has been considered that this variety is a hybrid with F. orientalis, but judging from its fruits this is not the case.
cv. ‘Miltonensis’. – This weeping beech was described in a letter to Loudon from the Rev. M. J. Berkeley, dated June 2, 1837, informing him that in ‘one of the plantations bordering Milton Park, the seat of Earl Fitzwilliam, in Northamptonshire, there is a beautiful accidental variety of the beech… . The branches are beautifully pendent, and even the last six feet of the top bend down. Mr Henderson, the very intelligent gardener, has propagated it by grafts’ (Loudon, Arb. et Frut. Brit., Vol. 3, p. 1953, and Vol. 8, plate LXX B). A grafted tree, probably one of the original propagations, still grows in the Pleasure Grounds at Milton Hall and is portrayed in Qtly. Journ. For., Vol. 65 (1971), p. 176. In the accompanying letter Mr S. Egar gives the height of the tree as 45 ft from base to bend of leaders, and the girth 73⁄4 ft at breast-height. The tree is branched to the ground and has layered itself.
Loudon expressed the hope that ‘so splendid a variety will… soon find its way into the public nurseries’. It may have done so, but the three grafted trees at Kew received from James Booth of Hamburg in 1872 and 1876 are not the Milton variety, though they came as F. s. miltonensis. One has gracefully drooping branches, but is not truly pendulous; one scarcely differs from any common beech; the third is intermediate. All have roundish, smooth-edged leaves and a distinctive bark, in which the normal grey bark is broken into small angular patches by a network of raised ridges, Judging from Jouin’s description, the Milton variety distributed by Simon-Louis was also not the true clone but more probably the common pendulous beech of British collections.
cv. ‘Pagnyensis’. – This variety was found near Pagny in the department of Meurthe-et-Moselle, France, where it was known as the tordu-fou (‘twisted beech’, fou being a dialect name for beech). Like so many of the interesting wild variants of beech found in France it was propagated by Simon-Louis Frères and according to Jouin, manager of their tree nursery, it had a wide umbrella-shaped crown and did not rise much above the ground if grafted low. ‘Retroflexa’, distributed by the same firm, was said to be similar.
f. pendula [Loud.] Schelle F. s. var. pendula Lodd. ex Loud. – There are several types of weeping beech. The one best known under the name pendula is not a high tree, but sends out its great arms in a horizontal or drooping direction; from these the smaller branches depend almost vertically, the whole making a tent-like mass. There are examples at Kew near the Broad Walk and in the Beech collection. This form of weeping beech is almost certainly the one distributed by Loddiges early last century and therefore the one for which the cultivar name ‘Pendula’ should be used. But there is another pendulous beech, also known as F. s. pendula, which is perhaps commoner on the continent than here. It is quite distinct from the tent-like clone, being slender in habit with the main branches pendent. This seems to be the F. s. pendula of Kirchner, of which there were already old trees in Germany when he described it in 1864 (in Arboretum Muscaviense). Two trees at Westonbirt facing the main gate to Westonbirt School are of this type. In addition there is the famous weeping beech at the Knap Hill nurseries, which is believed to have come from France in 1826. This tree, which has formed a small copse by self-layering, is certainly not the same as our tent-like pendula, but it is hard to judge its true character, for it grows in a soil and climate unfavourable to the best development of beech. Grown in better conditions it might prove to be the same as the pendula of Kirchner.
cv. ‘Prince George of Crete’. See under f. latifolia.
f. purpurea (Ait.) Schneid. F. s. var. purpurea Ait.; F. s. f. atropurpurea Kirchn. Purple Beech. – Leaves deep purple when mature; of a beautiful pale red in spring. This is by far the most popular of the varieties of beech. It is not of garden origin, but appears to have been observed growing naturally in at least three places, viz.: in the Hanleiter Forest, near Sonderhausen, in Thuringia; in the Darney Forest in the Vosges; and in the village of Buchs, in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland. The last is the oldest recorded site of the purple beech, three trees there being mentioned in a work dated 1680. They were the survivors of a group originally of five, which, according to legend, had sprung up on the spot where five brothers had killed each other. Most of the trees in cultivation are considered to have sprung from the Hanleiter tree.
The date of introduction of the purple beech to Britain is uncertain. It appears to have been in cultivation here around 1760, and certainly by 1777, when Loddiges listed it in their catalogue. Whether the beech described by Weston as F. s. var. atropunicea in 1770 was really the purple beech, as Rehder assumed, is by no means certain. Possibly it was, but the fact remains that Weston called his var. atropunicea the ‘American purple-leaved beech’, and Humphrey Marshall, an American nurseryman and collector who was certainly acquainted with Weston’s book, actually adopted the name F. sylvatica var. atropunicea for the American beech (Arbustum Americanum (1780), p. 46).
The only old purple beech of which the planting date is known grows at the Knap Hill nurseries, Surrey. It measures 65 × 141⁄4 ft (1961) and was planted in 1826. Trees with girths in excess of this are: Linton Park, Kent, 90 × 191⁄2 ft (1965); Cobham Hall, Kent, 85 × 181⁄4 ft (1965); Mote Park, Maidstone, Kent, 72 × 16 ft (1965); Corsham Court, Wilts, 92 × 171⁄2 ft (1965); Wilton House, Wilts, 95 × 163⁄4 ft (1961); The Lodge, Wateringbury, Kent, 75 × 201⁄4 ft (1962).
The purple beech comes partially true from seed but the majority of the seedlings are either the ordinary green type or but faintly coloured. The name F. sylvatica cuprea or copper beech is used for trees with leaves paler than in the true purple beech. Various clones of the purple beech have received names. ‘Swat Magret’, raised in Germany by Timms and Co., has very dark purple leaves, which are said to retain their colouring until late in the summer. ‘Brocklesby’ has leaves rather larger than normal, deep purple. It may have originated at Brocklesby Park, Lines, where there are many fine purple beeches, but curiously enough no reference to it in British literature can be found; the example at Kew, too crowded in to show its characters well, came from Späth’s nursery, Berlin. The well-known ‘Riversii’ was raised and distributed originally by Messrs Rivers of Sawbridgeworth, who listed it in their trade catalogues in the 1870s as a very fine form of purple beech. They themselves did not give it a distinguishing name, but it became known as F. sylvatica purpurea Riversii in the trade.
cv. ‘Purpurea Tricolor’. – Leaves purplish, narrower than normal, edged and striped with rose and pinkish white. This is very pretty when the leaves are young. The tree at Kew, seen from a distance, has the aspect of a small-leaved and slender copper beech. This variety is said to have come to notice almost simultaneously in France and Holland, and to have been first propagated in quantity by Transon’s nursery, Orleans, who first exhibited it in 1885 (Rev. Hort. Belg., Vol. 12, p. 145; Rev. Hort. (1885), p. 311). A similar or perhaps identical beech was exhibited by Messrs Cripps in 1888 as F. s. roseomarginata and was awarded a First Class Certificate.
cv. ‘Purpurea Pendula’. – The tree commonly grown under this name in Britain (and also seen in continental collections) is slow-growing and makes a small, mushroom-shaped bush; leaves rich purple. It is possible that the correct name for this variant should be ‘Purpurea Pendula Nana’.
f. quercifolia Schneid. See f. laciniata.
f. quercoides (Pers.) Domin F. s. var. quercoides Pers. – Bark oak-like. The tree on which Persoon based the name grew at Göttingen in Germany and was thought there to be a hybrid between the oak and the beech (Trans. Linn.Soc. Lond., Vol. 5 (1800), p. 233). This variant occurs occasionally in the wild.
cv. ‘Remillyensis’. – An umbrella-shaped tree, with tortuous branches. It was first distributed by Simon-Louis Frères and presumably came from the Remilly stand mentioned under f. tortuosa. The specimen at Kew came from Lee’s nursery in 1873 and measures 36 × 51⁄4 ft (1967). It is grafted at 4 ft.
cv. ‘Rohanii’. – Leaves brownish purple, cut about as deeply as in the original laciniata (q.v.), but with the serrations more irregular and themselves often edged with shallow, roundish teeth. This beech was raised on the estate of Prince Camille de Rohan at Sychrov, in what is now Czechoslovakia, from seeds sown in 1888. The parents are believed to be two trees still growing in the collection – one the purple beech ‘Brocklesby’, the other a cut-leaved beech called F. s. quercifolia, which appears to be similar to the trees grown under that name at Kew (see under f. laciniata). After the death of the Prince the garden superintendent V. Mašek set up his own nursery at Turnov nearby, and his son K. Mašek put ‘Rohanii’ into commerce in 1908, though it seems at the time to have attracted little attention and only recently has become widely known and planted. There is a good specimen in the Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey.
cv. ‘Roseomarginata’. See under ‘Purpurea Tricolor’.
cv. ‘Rotundifolia’. – Perhaps the daintiest of beech varieties; leaves round, 1⁄2 to 11⁄4 in. in diameter, very closely set on the branches. It originated near St Johns, Woking, and was known by 1872, in which year Major McNair of Brookwood sent a specimen to Kew. It was propagated by Messrs Jackman of Woking and received a First Class Certificate when shown by them in 1894. It was figured in the same year in Gardener’s Magazine, p. 339. The tree at Kew, which came from Späth’s nursery in 1900, has larger leaves (11⁄2 in. wide), than in the dried specimen from McNair, but this is probably of no significance. The number of pairs of veins is the same in both – usually four. The Kew tree is of slender, erect habit; there is also a large specimen at Wakehurst Place, Sussex, with a more spreading crown.
f. tortuosa (Pepin) Hegi F. s. var. tortuosa Pepin – A rather heterogeneous group of abnormally branched beeches which often occur in colonies and have been reported from France, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. The branches are tortuous or zigzagged, sometimes forming ‘horse-collars’ by the self-grafting of branchlets onto the parent stem. These beeches may form trees of a fair size or large, spreading shrubs; often the branchlets of the tree-like plants are pendulous. The typical trees are known as ‘Les Faux de St Basles’ and grow in the Forest of Verzy near Nancy (fau, fou, are dialect names for beech). They were described by Pépin in Rev. Hort. (1861), p. 84, and are now under state protection. Another French stand, described by Carrière in Rev. Hort. (1877), p. 374, was situated near Remilly, S.E. of Metz. See further under ‘Remillyensis’.
In Germany a famous colony of the spreading sub-form grows in the Süntel Highlands between Cologne and Hanover. One of these was removed to the Berggarten at Hanover, where it still grows. Tortuous beeches in S. Sweden, of which there are many, are described by John Kraft in Lustgarden (1966-7), pp. 25-59 (with 40 photographs by Tor Lundgren).
cv. ‘Tricolor’. – This variety was cultivated by Simon-Louis Frères of Metz. According to Jouin, the manager of their tree and shrub nursery, it was not vigorous and had small leaves that burnt in the sun and were rose-edged when young, the margin later becoming white. He seems to have had no high opinion of it and cautioned that it should not be confused with F. s. purpurea tricolor (as in fact it has been). His description will be found in his notes on the variants of the beech sold by his firm, published in Le Jardin, Vol. 13.
cv. ‘Zlatia’. – Leaves yellow when young but not of a shade deep enough to be called golden; when mature they scarcely differ from those of the ordinary beech. It was discovered near Vranje in Serbia and put into commerce by Späth, who received scions from Prof. Dragašević in 1890. The name derives from the Serbian word for gold (zlato).
In the Balkans and eastern Central Europe beeches occur which are intermediate in foliage between the oriental and the common, but lack the leafy processes seen on the cupules of the former. These have been named F. moesiaca (Maly) Czeczot. According to P. Fukarek (Int. Dendr. Soc. Ybk. (1968), p. 37) the leaves of intermediates found in Jugoslavia are narrower than in the common beech, with a cuneate base and more numerous lateral nerves, and the cupules bear longer and softer processes.