Beech (Fagus Sylvatica)

Following on from International Women’s Day we thought it appropriate to recognise the Common Beech which is the Queen of our woodland trees (Oak being the King).

Common beeches are beautiful woodland and landscape trees at any time of year but particularly evocative in winter and early spring when their thin grey bark is evident and the ground is often still covered in their crispy leaves which are very slow to decompose.

This large, graceful giant can reach 40 metres or more and develop a huge domed crown. The reddish brown, torpedo-shaped leaf buds form on twigs during the winter, and have a distinctive criss-cross layered pattern. These long buds further distinguish themselves by not pressing in against the twigs like many other species. The nuts (called beechnuts or beechmast) form within a distinctly spiky shell and are edible, though bitter. During winter, cattle used to be released into beech woodlands to eat this rich oily feast.

Where to find it?

Beech trees are common throughout the chalky soils of Europe and were once thought to have been introduced into Britain by the Romans. However recent research in Scotland in 2017 has confirmed that pollen dating suggest the beech tree has been around since the Ice Age and is changing attitudes towards native woodland management which would have previously removed them as a threat to other native species.

Because beech trees live for so long they provide habitats for many deadwood specialists such as hole-nesting birds and wood-boring insects. The bark is often home to a variety of fungi, mosses and lichens.

Beech makes a popular hedging plant. If clipped it doesn't shed its leaves until early spring, and provides a year-round dense screen, which provides a great habitat for garden birds.

Wood is used in the production of furniture, floorings and musical instruments such as drums. The young leaves can be steeped in gin for several weeks, the liquor strained off and sweetened to give a spring time alternative to sloe gin.

Be Part of it…

Visit Cregagh Glen to see a woodland with mature beech trees or have a look at the recently planted younger trees along Grand Parade in Dixon Park. The recent Scottish research into Beech trees is entitled ‘Understanding the legacy of widespread population translocations on the post-glacial genetic structure of the European beech’, (now that’s a mouthful!) and is published in the Journal of Biogeography - just in case you fancy some light reading!