Five Common Varieties of Beech Trees

Tri-color beech

 

Michael Nitzschke / Getty Images

Beech trees are deciduous plants that are classified as the Fagus genus and are in the Fagaceae family of plants. With a narrow but dense foliage crown, beech trees are popular choices for residential 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.

Beech trees are long-lived specimens that have been known to thrive for 200 to 300 years. In the right conditions, your beech tree will be an excellent shade tree for as long as you live in your home.

Warning

While humans and wildlife can eat the nuts of beech trees, you do not want to eat too many at once, as they can be mildly toxic in large quantities due to tannins within the nuts.

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    American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

    American beech

     

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    This is the only beech species that is an original native to North America. As the Latin name grandiflora indicates, the tree has elliptical leaves that are large for the genus, up to 5 inches long. The bark is a medium gray and the canopy forms a dense oval to rounded crown. Fall leaf color isa golden bronze color. In the wild, it often suckers to form dense, brushy thickets. This species can have problems with the beech blight aphid (Grylloprociphilus imbricator) and beech bark disease, but it is otherwise a fairly trouble-free tree. The American beech is not particularly tolerant of urban conditions, however; it is not a great choice for inner-city planting, though it can do fine in suburban settings.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Height: 50 to 80 feet; occasionally to 120 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
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    European Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

    European beech
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    This is the most common beech tree across the world. It is similar to the American beech in appearance and growth habit, but has smaller leaves and bark that is a darker gray. Arriving in North America with European colonists in the 1700s, it is now widely naturalized and can be found in wild settings. The leaves are oval and dark green in color, up to 4 inches long. There are many cultivars available offering many growth forms and different leaf colors, including copper, tri-color, weeping beech, golden beech, and dwarf beech. Several have won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. Like the American beech, the European beech is a fairly trouble-free specimen that makes an excellent shade tree. It can be a better choice if you don't want the very dense shade of the American beech.

    • Native Area: Central Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Height: 50 to 60 feet; occasionally to 100 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade (full sun is optimal)
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    Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea' or Fagus sylvatica f. pururea)

    Copper beech
    Ursula Sander / Getty Images

    A very popular variety of European birch is the copper birch, usually described as Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea', although some experts regard it as a naturally occurring genetic form rather than a cultivar. This variety has coppery or purple-colored leaves that turn shades of red in the fall. A related cultivar—F. sylvatica f. purpurea 'Pendula'—is a weeping variety. There are also cultivars with leaves that are more purple, including 'Reversii' and 'Spaethiana'. These are slow-growing trees that are sometimes kept closely pruned to serve as wind-blocking hedge plants; they are especially tolerant of windy conditions.

    • Native Area: Central Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Height: 50 to 60 feet; occasionally to 100 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
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    Tri-Color Beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Tricolor' or F. sylvatica 'Roseo-Marginata' )

    Tri-color beech

     

    Michael Nitzschke / Getty Images

    This tree is another popular cultivar of the European beech. It features unusual variegated leaves that are pink, white, and green. This beech is less likely to develop excessive size, making it an excellent shade tree for smaller yards. Foliage is purple with pink margins as it emerges in spring changing to dark bronze-green with pale pink margins in summer, then finally turning bronze-gold in the fall. The 4-inch long leaves have prominent parallel veins. This tree is a good choice for acidic soils, though it will tolerate nearly any soil pH.

    • Native Area: Central Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Height: 25 to 30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade; too much sun may burn the variegated leaves
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    Japanese Beech (Fagus crenata)

    Japanese beech
    Toyofumi Mori / Getty Images

    This species is found throughout the forests of Japan, where it sometimes is the predominant species. It has smooth, silvery-gray bark and a rounded crown. The leaves are oval and a glossy medium-green in color. The foliage turns an attractive shade of yellow in fall. Also known as Buna or Siebold's beech, this tree has a widely variable growth rate and has been known to exceed 200 feet. It is also a frequent specimen in bonsai gardening. In the landscape, this beech casts very dense shade that can make it difficult to grow other plants under its canopy. It prefers well-drained, loamy or sandy soils.

    • Native Area: Japan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 70 to 110 feet; occasionally to 200 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade; has good shade tolerance

Landscaping Tip

Beech trees can develop a lush, dense canopy, shielding your backyard from harsh sunlight and casting ample shade. While the beech tree is a slow grower, its longevity and sturdiness will outweigh the inconvenience of waiting for it to flourish. If you're interested in beech tree-like trees, you can also consider a variety of oak trees, such as the English oak or turkey oak.