Five Kinds of Beech Trees

Beech trees are deciduous plants that are classified as the Fagus genus and placed 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 of which are considered to be 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 are the source of a nut known as the beechnut or beech mast that is encased in a spiky husk. The nuts are edible for both humans and wildlife. 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
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    • Latin name: Fagus grandifolia
    • Other common names: North American beech, gray beech, red beech, ridge beech, Carolina beech, white beech
    • Native to: North America
    • USDA zones: 4–9
    • Height: 40 to 80 feet
    • Exposure: Full sun is best, tolerates some shade

    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.

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    Copper Beech

    Copper beech
    Ursula Sander / Getty Images
    • Latin name: Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea'; also Fagus sylvatica 'Atropunicea'
    • Other common names: Purple beech
    • Native to: Europe
    • USDA zones: 4–7
    • Height: Up to 100 feet
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

    This is a cultivar of the European beech that has coppery or purple leaves. In the fall, they will lighten up to be 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'.

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    European Beech

    European beech
    Tony Howell / Getty Images
    • Latin name: Fagus sylvatica
    • Other common names: Common beech
    • Native to: Europe
    • USDA zones: 4–7
    • Height: 50 to 100 feet
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade, with full sun being optimal

    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 beeches, golden beech, and dwarf beeches. Several have won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

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    Japanese Beech

    Japanese beech
    Toyofumi Mori / Getty Images
    • Latin name:Fagus crenata
    • Other common names: Buna, Siebold's beech
    • Native to: Japan
    • USDA zones: 4–7
    • Height: 70 to 225 feet
    • Exposure: Full sun is best; can tolerate light shade

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

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    Tri-Color Beech

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

    This tree is also 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.