Common Beech - Fagus sylvatica

Main features

  • Can reach up to 40m tall

  • Domed crown when mature

  • Smooth grey bark

  • Glossy oval leaves with a wavy edge

  • Leaf edge has fine hairs 

  • Central vein on leaf has fine hairs either side of it

  • Has a purple variant

  • Leaves fire-orange in Autumn

  • Flower in the form of catkins and cups

  • Fruits are hard and covered in hook-like spines

  • Fruits split four ways when ripe

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Common Beech - Fagus sylvatica

Edible tree - novice

Other common names: Beech, European Beech, Beech

 

Scientific name meaning: The genus name Fagus is a Latin name given to Beech trees. Sylvatica comes from the Latin Sylvaticus, meaning "growing among trees or in a wood"

Season - all year

Habitat - where will I find it? Found in woodland, particularly in the south of England and Wales, Beech is also found in parks and gardens.

It is a native of Britain and Europe

Description - what does it look like? Beech can reach 40m and forms a dome-shaped crown when mature.

Its bark is smooth and grey, and twisted snake-like roots are sometimes visible at the soil surface.

The glossy oval leaves have a wavy edge and are light green and covered in fine hairs when young. They become darker green as they age, with a small amount of hairs retained on their edge, as well as either side of the central vein on the underside of the leaf. The leaves turn a fire-orange colour in Autumn and can stay on the tree until early winter.

Leaf buds are present most of the year and are torpedo shaped with a criss-cross pattern.

In the common variant Copper Beech (f. purpurea), the leaves start off and remain a dark purple colour until turning orange in Autumn.

In Spring, male (catkins) and female (cups) flowers develop.

Individual hard oval fruits appear in summer and are covered in hook-like prickles. When ripe, the fruit splits four ways revealing two to three seeds

Possible lookalikes Hornbeam is often confused with Beech, but its leaves have a serrated edge, no hairs on the edge and are not glossy.

Other species of Beech could also be confused, but these have the same uses

Use as a food The young leaves of Common Beech can be eaten raw or in salad, but must be collected before they become tough. They can also be used to make an alcoholic liqueur called Beech Leaf Noyau.

The nuts/seeds can be eaten raw or cooked. However, excessive consumption is thought to have a toxic effect

Use in herbal medicine Common Beech has been used to treat many conditions including skin disorders, chest infections, excess digestive acid, fevers, and toothache. It is also belived to have antiseptic qualities. 
If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Hazards Excessive consumption of the seeds of Common Beech is believed to have a toxic effect

Other uses The wood of Common Beech is useful for wood turning and is used to make furniture and cooking equipment. It is not used for outdoor furniture due to its susceptibility to insects and fungi. 

Creosote and tar can be extracted from the wood. The wood itself burns well and with good heat, so a valuable fuel.

The fallen Autumn leaves of Common Beech have been used as mattress stuffing

Importance to other species The dense canopy Common Beech forms means little light reaches the ground of a Beech woodland. This reduces the species able to grow there, but creates opportunities for rarer plants, including orchids. 

Beech leaves are a food source of various moth caterpillars,  including the Barred Hook-Tip, Olive Crescent and Clay Triple-Line moths. Its seeds are eaten by mammals and birds.

Many fungi form mycorrhizal relationships with Common Beech, including Truffles, Chanterelle and Penny Buns. When it dies, it is home to saprobic fungi such as Porcelain Fungus

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!