Beech - Fagus sylvatica


Beech is a tree, widespread in Europe and in Italy even in the wild, which can reach, in adulthood, 25-30 m in height. Typically it is a plant found in the hilly woods of the Alps, or in areas up to 900-1000 meters in the Apennines; it is difficult to find in the gardens, even if some beeches find place in the city parks, and there are varieties of contained dimensions, suitable also for the gardens, that are however large: this tree is not suitable to be cultivated in a tiny family garden. Typically the beeches are found in woods consisting only of this essence, called faggete, or in mixed woods, where there are also oaks or firs. There are about a dozen species of beech, but in Italy and Europe only one is widespread, Fagus sylvatica, also called European beech; the other species are widespread in Asia and North America. These are large trees, with a large erect stem, with smooth bark, of gray color; the branches' scaffolding creates a broad, slightly oval crown; in spring it produces small, roundish feminine flowers, and the male flowers gathered in pendulous catkins, bloom in the period in which the tree, deciduous, produces the first spring leaves. In summer the flowers are followed by the fruits, species of hedgehogs, provided with soft, roundish spines, which contain two small walnuts.

Some species of BeechFagus sylvatica

This species of beech can be found in forests throughout Europe, from Italy to Norway; although the species is only one, there are some different varieties of fagus sylvatica, which often differ only in the shape or color of the foliage. Very common in parks Fagus sylvatica purpurea (or atropurpurea), which has dark red foliage throughout the growing season; or Fagus sylvatica roseo marginata, which has green leaves, with pink or purple margins, with pinkish margins, definitely very decorative. In nursery we can also find some dwarf varieties, that is the development of which remains more contained, and does not exceed 12-15 m in height; these varieties are typically pendulous, and therefore, in addition to their size, the habit is also very different from that of the botanical species; we therefore have Fagus sylvatica atropurpurea pendula, and Fagus sylvatica pendula. The branches and foliage of these two varieties of beech tend toward the bottom, giving a decidedly particular appearance to the whole. Also very common are Fagus sylvatica heterophylla, also called "Asplenifolia", which has smaller leaves with a wavy edge, very decorative and pleasant.

Fagus grandifolia

In the forests of the United States, the most widespread beech is Fagus grandifolia, which differs from the European one by its foliage, which is decidedly larger, oval, and with a serrated edge. It is a well-resistant species in the shade, which therefore finds posts in forests already formed and well established. We also find the variety Fagus grandifolia caroliniana, with slightly different foliage, and the variety mexicana, which is sometimes treated as a species in its own right.

Grow beech trees

The beech trees in Italy live in their natural state, but only in areas that are quite cool, in fact they fear the very hot and dry seasons, which can force us to water trees that have been staying for a long time; in the gardens we often find only the particular varieties, with colored foliage, or those of small dimensions, pendulous. These trees, once well settled in the cultivation land, tend to have no need, being satisfied with the rain water. When we plant a small tree, however, we must support it until it has produced a good root system, or we will go to the point of failure. First of all it is good to choose an area in the sun, or in partial shade (especially if we live in a place characterized by a very hot climate in summer), where we will prepare, with about a week in advance, a planting hole, working the soil well , mixing it with manure, and possibly sand if it is necessary to increase drainage. Beeches live well in a fairly neutral, well-drained, deep and rich soil. Although we have chosen to plant a specimen of a dwarf variety, let us remember that "when we grow up" it will even reach 12-15 meters in height, with a fairly broad crown, and so we look for a suitable area for our tree also for the years to come. After planting the young tree, placing it at the same depth as it was in the nursery, let us remember to compact the soil well with our feet, to give stability to the future tree. Let's water well, and place some braces, which will allow the beech to grow straight and not be afraid of the wind. In the first years of the street it will be opportune to water the plant during the periods of summer drought; since it is a deciduous plant, which enters vegetative rest upon the arrival of cold, care in the winter months is void. Beeches are left free to develop, as they have a fairly slow growth, and tend to naturally take balanced forms; for this reason they are hardly pruned, unless you have to remove branches damaged by the weather, or broken up during a storm.

Diseases of the beech

beeches are often attacked by animal parasites; these attacks are all the more worrying the younger the tree is; in addition to this, trees placed in places unsuitable for their development tend to bear pests, which can cause even very serious damage. Woods, in beech-woods, animal parasites are unlikely to bring old trees to death.
Typically in spring the beeches are attacked by aphids, which settle on young shoots and flowers. Coleoptera and diptera often nest on the young branches, feeding on both the leaves and the roots, causing very serious damage. Even in the woods that have been planted for a long time, wood decay can occur, a fungus that affects the woody tissue of the tree, causing gray zoning on the branches and the presence of fungus on the outside. Even the powdery mildew often develops, on the foliage in the spring months, characterized by cool and humid climate, and strong temperature range. In the young saplings and seedlings the beech trees are also attacked by root or collar rot, amplified and favored in its development by a very compact soil, always damp or soaked in water. Old trees, in Italian beech-woods, generally do not suffer from pest attacks, because generally these parasites do not succeed in causing sufficiently large damages to worry about a big tree. The problem is different if we find ourselves in a home garden, with a young specimen of beech, which will then be treated promptly, to avoid death. Unsuitable growing conditions can favor the development of pests, which will spread more quickly on the tree.

Beech - Fagus sylvatica: The beech, commercial interest

The beech trees are very present in Italy, in the wild, also because this tree was used decades ago for the reforestation of the hilly and mountainous areas once used for agriculture. Beech was chosen in some areas as the wood of this tree is considered valuable, as it is used to build musical instruments (pianos, violins, drums), and rifle butts.
The wood is dense and resistant, and once the beeches were used to build the sleepers of the railway, or those poles that keep the two rails apart, now replaced by concrete sleepers or other material.
The fruits are contained in a sort of husk, poisonous; the almond-like seeds it contains are still used, in some areas, as if they were dried fruit; the taste is quite particular, bitter, accentuated by the roasting of the seeds.
During the Second World War, beech-nuts were roasted and ground, and used to make coffee, or better, the so-called coffee substitute. For reasons unknown today, the product was called Fago, and most of its users considered it of exotic origins, and they did not imagine it came from European forests.
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