Five Kinds of Beech Trees

Beech trees are deciduous plants that are classified as the Fagus genus and are in the Fagaceae family. They are popular choices for shade trees, and their wood makes excellent lumber and firewood. Beech trees can grow in many different conditions, provided the soil drains properly. Their leaves are usually green and may have edges that are toothed. There are also some cultivars that have variegated, yellow, or purple leaves, some that are even considered edible.

The flowers on beech trees are monoecious, meaning that both male and female blossoms form on the same plant. The flowers are pollinated by the wind and are the source of a nut known as the beechnut or beech mast that is encased in a spiky husk. Humans and wildlife can eat the nuts. You do not want to eat too many at once, however, as they can be mildly toxic in large quantities due to tannins in the nuts.

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    American Beech

    American beech tree
    David Sieren / Getty Images

    This is the only beech species to come naturally from North America. As the Latin name indicates, the tree has large leaves for the genus, up to 5 inches long. This species can have problems with the beech blight aphid (Grylloprociphilus imbricator) and beech bark disease.

    • Botanical name: Fagus grandifolia
    • Other common names: North American beech, gray beech, red beech, ridge beech, Carolina beech, white beech
    • Native area: North America
    • USDA zones: 4 through 9
    • Height: 40 to 80 feet
    • Sun exposure: Full sun is best, tolerates some shade
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    Copper Beech

    Copper beech
    Ursula Sander / Getty Images

    This is a cultivar of the European beech that has coppery or purple leaves. In the fall, it lightens up to shades of red. Purpurea Pendula is a similar cultivar that is weeping. There are also other cultivars with purple leaves, such as Riversii and Spaethiana.

    • Latin name: Fagus sylvatica Purpurea or Fagus sylvatica Atropunicea
    • Other common names: Purple beech
    • Native area: Europe
    • USDA zones: 4 through 7
    • Height: Up to 100 feet
    • Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade
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    European Beech

    European beech
    Tony Howell / Getty Images

    This is the most likely beech that you will run into around the world. It has many cultivars including the copper beech, tri-color beech, weeping beech, golden beech, and dwarf beeches. Several have won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

    • Latin name: Fagus sylvatica
    • Other common names: Common beech
    • Native area: Europe
    • USDA zones: 4 through 7
    • Height: 50 to 100 feet
    • Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade with full sun being optimal
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    Japanese Beech

    Japanese beech
    Toyofumi Mori / Getty Images

    This species is found throughout the forests of Japan. It is used in the art of bonsai.

    • Latin name:Fagus crenata
    • Other common names: Buna, Siebold's beech
    • Native area: Japan
    • USDA zones: 4 through 7
    • Height: 70 to 225 feet
    • Sun exposure: Full sun is best; can tolerate light shade
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    Tri-Color Beech

    Tri color beech
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    This tree is a cultivar of the European beech. It features variegated leaves that are pink, white, and green. As a smaller beech, it is an excellent choice for a specimen tree in the landscape.

    • Latin name: Fagus sylvatica "Roseo-Marginata"
    • Other common names: Roseomarginata European beech, tri-colored European beech
    • Native area: Europe
    • USDA zones: 4 through 7
    • Height: 24 to 40 feet
    • Sun exposure: Does best in partial shade as too much sun may burn the variegated leaves