BEECH, COMMON(Fagus sylvatica) 

Mature trees grow to a height of more than 40m and develop a huge domed crown. The bark is smooth, thin and grey, often with slight horizontal etchings. The reddish brown, torpedo-shaped leaf buds form on short stalks and have a distinctive criss-cross pattern. 

Look out for: the edges of the leaves which are hairy. Triangular beech nuts form in prickly four-lobed seed cases. 
 
Identified in winter by: leaf buds which are distinctively sharply pointed and not pressed against the twigs. They often hold on to their leaves throughout winter, a trait known as marcescence. 

Leaves 

Young leaves are lime green with silky hairs. As they mature they become darker green and lose their hairs. They are 4–9cm long, stalked, oval and pointed at the tip, with a wavy edge

Flowers 

Beech is monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers grow on the same tree. In April and May the tassel-like male catkins hang from long stalks at the end of twigs, while female flowers grow in pairs, surrounded by a cup. 

Fruits 

The cup becomes woody once pollinated, and encloses one or two beech nuts (known as beechmast). Beech is wind pollinated. 

Where to find common beech 

Its natural habitat extends over a large part of Europe from southern Sweden to northern Sicily. It requires a humid atmosphere and well-drained soil. It can be sensitive to winter frost. 
 
In the UK, common beech is only considered truly native to south-east England and south-east Wales. It grows in woods or as single trees, usually on drier, free-draining soils, such as chalk, limestone and light loams. 
 
Beech woodland is shady and characterised by a dense carpet of fallen leaves and mast husks which prevent most woodland plants from growing. Only specialist shade-tolerant plants can survive beneath a beech canopy. 

Uses of common beech 

Beech timber is suitable for a variety of purposes, including fuel, furniture, cooking utensils, tool handles and sports equipment. The wood burns well and was traditionally used to smoke herring. The edible nuts, or masts, were once fed to pigs, and in France the nuts are still sometimes roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The young, fresh, green leaves can be nibbled raw. Beech makes a popular hedging plant. If clipped it doesn’t shed its leaves, and creates a year-round dense screen, which provides a great habitat for garden birds. 

Forked beech twigs are also traditionally used for divining.