Tricolor beech is a unique type of European beech, a striking deciduous tree that you won't soon forget. Tricolor beech has low branches and smooth gray bark, and it is often used as a specimen tree due to the variegated leaves that may include many shades of green, pink, and white. From a distance, the tree usually has a rose-colored appearance. The leaves are wavy and oval, 4 inches long and 2 inches wide, which turn an attractive copper color in the fall. Non-showy, yellowish-green male and female flowers appear on the same tree in April through May. Its seeds are small tri-cornered nuts, commonly known as beechnuts.
The tree is toxic to humans, and toxic to pets.
|Common Name||Tricolor beech, tri-colored European beech, Roseomarginata European beech|
|Botanical Name||Fagus sylvatica 'Roseo-Marginata'/'Purpurea Tricolor'|
|Mature Size||24-40 ft. tall, 30 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Leaf Color||Green, pink, white|
|Hardiness Zones||4-7 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Cultivar, no native range|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans, toxic to pets|
Tricolor Beech Care
Tricolor beech can be a wide tree, so give it plenty of space when choosing a location. Its slow growth allows it to serve as a screen or large hedge when planted in rows. Take extra care if planting this tree in the fall, as the tricolor beech is more sensitive to being transplanted at that time.
Tricolor beech trees are among the most popular trees in public parks and gardens across North America and Europe. One of the oldest and largest public parks featuring tricolor beech trees is in Brookline, Massachusetts, near Boston. The beech trees at the Longwood Mall were planted prior to the Civil War, making them the oldest stand of this type of beech tree in the country.
Most beech trees grow in forests and prefer partial to total shade. Full sunlight may burn their leaves or stunt their growth. Tricolor beech is best suited as an understory tree and part shade conditions.
This tree prefers well-drained, moist, and slightly acidic soil of a pH between 5.0 and 6.5 though it is quite tolerant of neutral soil.
It does not do well in waterlogged soils. Although considered less fussy than other beeches, tricolor often reacts badly to urban conditions or salty soils.
Since beech trees grow slowly, water regularly for the first two years to establish the root system. Keep in mind that tricolor beech is intolerant of salt in soil or water. Do not plant it near sidewalks, streets, or driveways where de-icing salts are used. This tree reacts badly to wide fluctuations in soil moisture, so make sure to water during dry spells.
It also best to mulch around the base of the tree to keep it moist, but not mulch directly up to the base. Use the space around the base of the tree that is free from mulch to plant ground covers or other plantings since the prominent surface roots make it hard to mow grass.
Temperature and Humidity
Beech trees can tolerate cold climates during the winter, but the trees are sensitive to spring frost. It prefers cooler climates with an average high temperature that doesn't exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
The leaves of tricolor beech are prone to scorching if they are not sheltered from the hot sun or dry winds. This is a tree that requires some shade, especially in warmer climates.
Feed your tricolor beech once a year before the appearance of new growth in spring, typically around March. Spread a general granular fertilizer (such as Tree-Tone) over the area under the canopy, then water well.
Types of European Beech
There are several other popular varieties of European beech to consider:
- Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea': One of the oldest and most popular is the copper or purple beech, which has purple leaves that turn a dark shade of green in late spring and early summer.
- Fagus sylvatica 'Tortuosa': This dwarf beech tree is easily recognizable by its twisting trunk and gnarled branches.
- Fagus sylvatica 'Pendula': A weeping beech, it looks similar to the weeping willow.
- Fagus sylvatica 'Zlatia': This golden beech has leaves that turn gold in late spring.
Routine pruning includes removing any suckers that sprout up and removing broken or dead branches as they appear. Where branches rub together, remove one of them to prevent bark injury where fungal diseases can take root. Pruning is best done during the late winter dormant season.
Tricolor beech can be planted close and pruned to become a hedge, as it tolerates pruning well. However, do not prune until it has become established, which can take at least a couple of years.
It's best to plant tricolor beech as a sapling or young tree that you purchase from a nursery. Propagation from cuttings can be tricky and has a hit or miss success rate, therefore it is not recommended. Because tricolor beech is a cultivar, growing the tree from seed will not produce a tree true to type.
European beech trees are hardy and can withstand winter temperatures up to USDA zone 4.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Beech scale is a common insect problem. It is best treated by systemic pesticides or insecticidal soap sprays. Caterpillars may feed on the leaves, but rarely to such a degree that it harms the tree.
The most common disease problem with beech trees is canker disease, a fungal disease that can cause bleeding wounds on the tree. These are most likely to appear on trees that are stressed through extremes in soil moisture. They can be prevented by taking good care of the tree, and treated with a propizol trunk injection.
Common Problems with Tricolor Beech
Beech leaf disease is a relatively new but mysterious problem for tricolor beech trees in some states and in Canada. The leaves begin to take on a dark stain, then shrivel and die, but the cause is still unknown.
Tricolor beech trees can be affected by powdery mildew, which rarely affects the health of the tree, and it can be treated with fungicides.
How fast does the tricolor beech grow?
The tree grows very slowly when first planted, but as it matures, it may add as much as one foot per year in height, reaching a mature size of 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide, although it's often much smaller. This variety is a more manageable tree than the standard European beech, which often grows to 60 feet.
Is Fagus sylvatica 'Roseo-Marginata' the same as Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Tricolor'
These are two different names for same cultivar with variegated foliage.
Is 'Purpurea Tricolor' the same cultivar as 'Tricolor"?
Although it is often referred to as tricolor beech, the actual cultivar 'Tricolor' is different. It does not have the same variegation and it is extremely rare.
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Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor'. Missouri Botanical Garden.
Kenaley, Shawn C., Rose, Clifford, Sullivan, Patrick J., Hudler, George W. Bleeding Canker of European Beech in Southeastern New York State: Phytophthora Species, Spatial Analysis of Disease, and Periodic Growth of Affected Trees. Journal of Environmental Horticulture, 32,3,113-125, 2014, doi:10.24266/0738-2822.214.171.124
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Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor'. Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences.