Tree of the Week – Part 7: The Common Beech

Tree of the Week - Common Beech

Common Beech – Fagus sylvatica

This week’s Tree of the Week features the Common Beech – as a single tree it can be a stunning and graceful feature, but it’s use as a hedging plant means it can be useful in any garden.

Considered to be a native tree, it’s happiest in light, free-draining soils – particularly in sandy or chalk areas. This means that it’s happiest growing in the South-East of Britain, however there are plenty of beautiful examples of this tree further north.

It’s fairly easy to recognise with its beautiful smooth grey bark (it can easily be likened to an elephants leg!) and the leaves, although plain are also a good indicator – glossy, symetrical, vivid green with a slightly ‘rippled’ edge and obvious veins. These leaves are also a giveaway during autumn when they instantly transform overnight to a beautiful copper orange and remain on the tree (or hedge) almost throughout winter.

Common Beech leaf - green

Beautiful vivid green Common Beech leaf

Tree of the Week Common Beech autumn leaf

Common Beech leaves in the autumn


Have a look around our website, or at our vehicles, even the clothing our teams wear…inspiration for our brand came directly from our passion for the beautiful Common Beech leaf!

Common Beech is one of the few trees that responds really well to pruning – as long as it’s done right. Normally living to around 150 – 250 years, the practice of pollarding can extend this to much longer. Beech were commonly pollarded in the past to ensure that the fresh young growth was held higher than browsing livestock could reach. The practice involved cutting all stems of young trees every winter (while the trees were dormant) to around 6 foot.

As a hedge, Common Beech responds beautifully to regular cutting every year and can be a great habitat for wildlife as it tends to hold onto its leaves almost all year round – plus you get that seasonal change from summer to autumn colour:

Tree of the Week Common Beech

The great Beech hedge at Meikleour, Tayside.

Tree of the Week Common Beech in autumn

The same hedge in autumn, showing beautiful colour.

Tree of the Week Facts, figures and legends!

  • Whilst the Oak is considered the King of trees, the Common Beech is often referred to as the Queen or even ‘Mother of the Forest’. Slender, elegant and strong enough to be planted as a nurse tree to protect more vulnerable trees.
  • A Latin dictionary will helpfully tell you that Fagus is the Latin for Beech! However, it’s the common, Anglo-Saxon name that is interesting. Beech is derived from ‘boc‘ where we also get the word book – before paper was widely available, we wrote on Beech bark tablets.
  • There’s a 44m Beech on the South Downs in West Sussex – not only is this believed to be the tallest Beech in the UK, it may be the tallest of all our native trees too!
  • Beech woodland can seem very sparse at ground level due to the dense canopy. However, it’s one of the best places to look for native bluebells in the spring and some rare orchids during summer.
  • The seeds of Beech trees (referred to as ‘beech mast’) provides an invaluable supply of food for wildlife and Beech woodlands have an association with truffles – the perfect place to graze a truffle-hunting pig!
  • In fact it’s not just truffles – beech trees have associations with over 2000 species of fungi! If you’re after mushrooms, Beech woods are the place to look.
  • The fluffy, silken covers which protect the young leaves were once used as a filling for mattresses?

Personal favourites/recommendations/wish list trees:

  • The Meikleour hedge is a truly astonishing sight and well worth a detour if you’re anywhere near. It’s north of Perth in Scotland and is located alongside the A93 Perth-Blairgowrie Road – you can’t miss it as it’s the longest, tallest hedge you’ll ever see and there’s usually a lay-by full of cars as people attempt to take photographs.
  • There’s a very old and very handsome cut-leaved Beech – Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’ at Biddulph Grange Garden (although it’s tucked away out of the formal garden so you would need to speak nicely to one of the gardeners if you wanted to see it!)
  • The Dark Hedges Estate, Ballymoney, Northern Ireland is famous for it’s avenue of ancient Beech trees which have been used in various films and tv programmes.

You can find out loads more about Beech trees on websites such as:

There’s a great bit of film of the tallest Beech being climbed here: Devil’s Dyke (NT)

The Woodland Trust have a lovely video of a day in the life of a Beech Tree here: Woodland Trust

Come back next week for Tree of the Week – Part 8