European Beech Growing Profile

Fagus sylvatica

European beech
  Frank Krahmer / Getty Images

Overview:

The European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is a deciduous shade tree from Europe. This can work well as a specimen tree, especially if you choose one of the cultivars with characteristics like purple leaves or a weeping habit. Many such cultivars are now available in the horticulture trade. This is best suited for gardens that are located in USDA Zones 4-7.

Latin Name:

The botanical name associated with this tree is Fagus sylvatica and it is part of the Fagaceae (beech) family.

An American native sibling is the American beech.

Common Names:

Names for this tree are European beech or common beech.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones:

You can include this in your garden if you live in Zones 4-7. It is native to Europe as the common name indicates.

Size & Shape:

This tree is usually around 40-60' tall at maturity, though it can grow over 100' in some instances

Exposure:

Full sun is best for proper growth, though it can tolerate sites with partial shade.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit:

Each dark green leaf is 2-4" long in an elliptical shape.  The margins are toothed.  In the fall, the foliage shifts to a golden yellow color. Some cultivars feature purple, yellow or variegated leaves.

European beech is monoecious so each tree will have both male and female flowers present in the spring. You can tell the difference between them by how they are formed on the tree. Females appear in little spikes and males are on long hanging clusters.

The fruit is known as beechnut or mast. Each one consists of triangular nuts surrounded by a spiky cover. It is favored by many kinds of wildlife and is also edible for humans, though you may find that they taste quite tart due to the tannin levels.

Design Tips:

This tree may sometimes struggle if planted in an urban garden.

There are many noteworthy cultivars available for this beech species.  The tri-color beech (which may be sold as 'Roseo-Marginata', 'Purpurea Tricolor' or 'Tricolor') features variegated leaves with a mix of pink, white and green. 'Dawyck Gold' and 'Zlatia' are cultivars that produces yellow leaves.

If you are a fan of trees with purple leaves, there are several cultivars available with that trait. They are sold under names like 'Purpurea', 'Spaethiana', 'Ansorgei', 'Atropunicea', 'Dawyck Purple''Rohanii', 'Spathiana', 'Riversii' and 'Atropurpurea' and have purple foliage, though the leaves may turn green in the summer for some cultivars. Many of these might be listed under the common name of copper beech. There are also weeping purple cultivars known as  'Purpurea Pendula' and 'Purple Fountain' and a yellow weeper called 'Aurea Pendula'.

'Tortuosa' adds interest during the winter especially since the branches and trunk are twisted. 'Tortuosa Purpurea' has the same features with the addition of purple leaves. 'Fastigiata' grows into an upright fastigiate shape. 'Asplenifolia' has leaves that are finely dissected into many lobes, giving it a daintier look. It is known as the fernleaf beech.

Growing Tips:

This tree is able to grow in a wide variety of soil types and pH levels as long as it drains well.

You can propagate the European beech through seed germination. The seeds will need some stratification (cold storage period) if they are not fresh. If you have a specific cultivar, you will need to graft it onto a sturdy rootstock to preserve the desirable characteristics.

Maintenance/Pruning:

This species may send out suckers, so keep the tree healthy and prune away any suckers to keep it neat and tidy. You may also want to limb it up so there is room underneath for cars or pedestrians if used near streets and sidewalks.

Pests & Diseases:

Beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga) may attack this tree. The damage they do leaves openings for Nectria fungus to invade and possibly lead to beech bark disease.

Watch for waxy woolly spots on the tree and treat for scales with horticultural oil or insecticides as soon as possible. Another method of control is inviting ladybugs (which like to chomp away on the beech scales) by preparing some beneficial bug food.

You may also see aphids, cankers and powdery mildew.