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Fagus sylvatica is often confused with:
Fagus engleriana Engler beech
Fagus grandifolia Form
Native alternative(s) for Fagus sylvatica:
Fagus grandifolia Form
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Fagus sylvatica 'Asplenifolia' Fagus sylvatica 'Asplenifolia' leaves
Fagus sylvatica f. pendula Photo of Fagus sylvatica f. pendula full
Ulmus alata Ulmus alata

Fagus sylvatica

Common Name(s):

Previously known as:

  • Castanea fagus
  • Fagus cuprea
Phonetic Spelling
FAG-us sil-VAT-ee-kuh
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

The European beech is a large, graceful, deciduous tree with a short trunk and low branching habit. It grows 50 to 60 feet tall and has dense, erect, oval to rounded crowns. It is often found in parks and golf courses. The European beech is smaller than the American Beech, and it has darker gray bark, and shorter, elliptical leaves with undulated or wavy margins that are ciliate. Yellowish-green and reddish-brown flowers bloom from April to May. The female flowers are short spikes, and the male flowers are long-stemmed, drooping clusters. The female flower produces triangular nuts that ripen in the fall and are edible.

This tree is a member of the Fagaceae or beech family and is native to central and southern Europe to the Caucasus. It is typically found in woodlands  The tree was introduced in North America in the mid-1700s by the colonists. It has become a popular ornamental shade tree. 

The genus name, Fagus, is Latin and comes from the family name. The specific epithet, sylvatica, is Latin and means "growing in the woods".  

The European beech prefers full sun to partial shade and moist well-drained soils. It is intolerant to wet soils or poorly drained soils and does not perform well in urban conditions. It is a little more tolerant of different soil types than American beech (Fagus grandifolia). This tree is resistant to browsing by deer.  It does not tolerate high summer temperatures and is also difficult to transplant. The tree is tolerant of pruning and can be used as a hedge or screen. 

Its large shady canopy makes it an excellent choice as a specimen or shade tree in a large yard or for use in a large lawn or park setting. Many cultivars of this tree are available and have various forms, leaf colors, and leaf shapes.

Seasons of Interest:

Bark:  Winter        Bloom:  Spring             Foliage:  Spring, Summer, and Fall         Fruits: Fall 

Quick ID Hints:

  • large deciduous tree with dense, upright, oval to rounded crown
  • dark gray, thin, smooth bark, older bark has the appearance of elephant hide
  • oval to elliptic, glossy dark green leaves with wavy margins and are ciliate
  • reddish-brown female flowers are short spikes, greenish-yellow male flowers are drooping, long-stemmed, globular clusters, occurring in the spring
  • fruits ripen in the fall and are triangular nuts with spiny bracts

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  This tree has no serious insect pests or diseases. Aphids, Japanese beetles, caterpillars, and scales are occasionally observed.  Trees that are under stress may suffer from borer damage.  Occasional disease problems include canker, beech bark disease, and powdery mildew.  

The beechnuts are toxic if ingested raw in large quantities or they are unripe; however, if the nuts are cooked properly, they may be consumed.

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

More information on Fagus.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Asplenifolia', 'Atropunicea', 'Atropunicea cuprea', 'Cockelshell', 'Dawyck Purple', 'Pendula' (f. pendula), 'Purple Fountain', 'Purpurea', 'Riversii', 'Roseomarginata', 'Tortuosa', 'Tricolor', 'Uniq', 'Zlatia'
Tags:
#cultivars#deciduous#shade tree#interesting bark#specimen#large tree#slow growing#pyramidal#gray bark#interesting leaves#lawn tree#deer resistant#rounded#alkaline soils tolerant#parks#deciduous tree#fall color yellow#fall color bronze#heat intolerant#woodland garden#wet soils intolerant#urban conditions intolerant#landscape plant sleuths course#wildlife friendly
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Asplenifolia', 'Atropunicea', 'Atropunicea cuprea', 'Cockelshell', 'Dawyck Purple', 'Pendula' (f. pendula), 'Purple Fountain', 'Purpurea', 'Riversii', 'Roseomarginata', 'Tortuosa', 'Tricolor', 'Uniq', 'Zlatia'
Tags:
#cultivars#deciduous#shade tree#interesting bark#specimen#large tree#slow growing#pyramidal#gray bark#interesting leaves#lawn tree#deer resistant#rounded#alkaline soils tolerant#parks#deciduous tree#fall color yellow#fall color bronze#heat intolerant#woodland garden#wet soils intolerant#urban conditions intolerant#landscape plant sleuths course#wildlife friendly
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Fagus
    Species:
    sylvatica
    Family:
    Fagaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The tree's wood has been used for centuries as firewood or for building furniture, musical instruments, veneer, and flooring.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern and Southern Europe to Caucasus
    Distribution:
    Native: Albania, Baltic States, Belgium Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, East European Russia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Krym, Netherlands, North Caucasus, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sicily, South European Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Transcaucasus, Turkey, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia. Introduced: United States
    Wildlife Value:
    The beechnuts are eaten by birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and other small mammals.
    Play Value:
    Edible fruit
    Screening
    Shade
    Wildlife Food Source
    Edibility:
    The beechnuts are edible if cooked properly. Raw or unripe nuts eaten in large quantities are toxic and can cause gastrointestinal distress. Young leaves can be cooked for greens in the spring.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 50 ft. 0 in. - 60 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 35 ft. 0 in. - 50 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Poisonous
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Erect
    Oval
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    NC Region:
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Nut
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is light brown to reddish-brown, bristly husk, and measures about 3/4 inches long. It opens into 4 sections and contains a triangular, or 3-angled, brown nut that measures 5/8 inches long. The fruits are known as beechnuts, and they ripen in the fall and are edible.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are monoecious and bloom from April through May. The female flowers are reddish-brown clusters that appear on short stalks, while the male flowers are greenish-yellow, long-stemmed, drooping, and globular clusters. Only the female flowers produce fruits that are triangular nuts enclosed by spiny bracts. The tree may not flower until it is 30 to 80 years old.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Undulate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are ovate to elliptic, glossy, dark green above, and light green on the undersides of the leaf. The margins are entire, undulated, and fringed with silky hairs when the leaves are young. The leaves measure 2 to 4 inches long and are alternate, simple, and pinnately veined with 7 to 9 pairs of veins. The leaves are ciliate when young, and appear smooth with age. The fall color is a golden bronze.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Smooth
    Bark Description:
    The bark is thin, smooth, and dark gray. Older tree trunk bark has the appearance of elephant hide.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gray/Silver
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Buds:
    Scaly
    Stem Form:
    Zig Zags
    Stem Description:
    The stems are slender with a zigzag form and are light brown to gray. The buds are light brown, narrow, long, pointed, and covered with overlapping scales.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Lawn
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    English Garden
    Shade Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Flowering Tree
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Shade Tree
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Problems:
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Children
    Problem for Dogs
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    If ingested raw in large quantities or if unripe, the beechnuts can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea in humans and dogs. If the beechnuts are properly cooked they can be consumed.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Trimethylamine, oxalic acid
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Fruits