Tricolor Beech Plant Profile

Single beech tree (Fagus sylvatica)

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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 in shape, 4 inches long and 2 inches wide, which turn an attractive copper color in the fall. Non-showy, yellowish-green flowers appear April through May. Its seeds are small tri-cornered nuts, commonly known as beechnuts, which are edible.

There are several cultivars commonly sold commercially as tricolor beech, including Fagus sylvatica 'Pupurea Tricolor,' F. sylvatica 'Roseo-marginata’ and F. sylvatica ‘Tricolor,’ all quite similar in appearance.

Tricolor beech grows slowly, especially when young, and can reach a mature size of 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide, although it is often much smaller. This variety is a more manageable tree than the standard European beech, which often grows to 60 feet. Tricolor is somewhat sensitive to urban conditions and will suffer from scorch in hot, dry conditions. But in the right environment, tricolor beech will draw attention with its unique appearance.

Tricolor beech trees are among the most popular in public parks and gardens across North America and Europe. One of the oldest and largest public parks featuring tri-color 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.

Botanical Name Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor' (also may be listed under F. Sylvatica  'Roseo-Marginata' and 'Purpurea Tricolor')
Common Name Tricolor beech, tri-colored European beech, Roseomarginata European beech
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size 24 to 40 feet tall and 30 feet wide
Sun Exposure Part shade
Soil Type Moist, well-drained soil
Soil pH 5 to 6.5; slightly acidic (but tolerates neutral soils)
Bloom Time Early spring
Leaf Color Green, pink, white, and copper
Hardiness Zones 4 through 7
Native Area Southern England, Denmark
'Beech-nuts and shells, close-up'
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How to Grow Tricolor Beech

Tricolor beech prefers a part-shade location in moist well-drained soil; it does not tolerate wet, dense soils. It can be a wide tree, so give it plenty of space when choosing a location. Although considered less fussy than other beeches, tricolor often reacts badly to urban conditions or salty soils. The tree grows very slowly when first planted, but as it matures it may add as much as one foot per year in height. This slow growth allows it to serve as a screen or large hedge when planted in rows.

It is best to mulch around the base of the tree, or use this space for ground covers or other plantings since the prominent surface roots make it hard to mow grass. Tricolor beech has both male and female flowers on the same tree and will produce edible beechnuts that can be harvested.

Light

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.

Soil

This tree prefers well-drained, moist, and slightly acidic soil, though it is quite tolerant of neutral soil. But it does not do well in waterlogged soils. Take extra care if planting in the fall, as tricolor beech is more sensitive to being transplanted at that time.

Water

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 driveway where deicing salts are used. This tree reacts badly to wide fluctuations in soil moisture, so make sure to water during dry spells.

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.

Fertilizer

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.

Related Varieties

There are several other good varieties of European beech to consider. One of the oldest and most popular is the copper or purple beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea'), which has purple leaves that turn a dark shade of green in late spring and early summer.

Another popular cultivar is the dwarf beech tree (Fagus sylvatica 'Tortuosa'), which many people will recognize by its twisting trunk and gnarled branches. Other popular versions of this tree include the weeping beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Pendula'), which looks similar to the weeping willow, and the golden beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Zlatia') whose leaves turn gold in late spring.

Pruning

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 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 one to two years.

Harvesting and Eating Beechnuts

Forest animals and human foragers alike are fond of beechnuts, which typically are harvested on the ground shortly after they fall from the tree. The triangular nuts turn a shiny brown color when ripe. Harvesting is typically done in October in many regions of the U.S.

Due to competition (with wildlife) for the small but flavorful nuts, it's best to harvest early in the morning, preferably after a spell of wind has helped drop the nuts. Be careful: Beechnuts are mildly toxic, so do not eat too many of them at once. The European beechnuts are somewhat bitter, unlike the sweeter American beechnuts.

Common Pests/ Diseases

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.

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 appear with trees that are stressed through extremes in soil moisture. They can be prevented by good care of the tree, and treated with a proper fungicide applied around the lower trunk of the tree.

Tricolor beech trees can be affected by powdery mildew, which rarely affects the health of the tree. If desired, it can be treated with fungicides.

Beech scale is a common insect problem, best treated by systemic pesticides or insecticidal soap sprays. Caterpillars may feed on the leaves, but rarely to such a degree that harms the tree.