Much like Common Beech it is a fairly widespread tree and is often found in parks and fields. This fantastic tree is not classed as a native tree of the UK because it is an ornamental cultivar. As it shares so many characteristics of Common beech the growing habits, flowering and life cycle is much the same. It does not like pollution so is not suited as a street tree. It is very easy to identify all year round and the fruit (Beech Nuts) are edible when prepared correctly. When in leaf it really stands out.
Copper beech is a large, deciduous tree and can live for hundreds of years with coppiced stands living for over a thousand years. Mature Beech trees can grow to a height of more than 40m and develop a huge domed crown. The bark is smooth, thin and grey, sometimes with slight horizontal etchings. The leaf buds form on short stalks and are reddish brown in colour and torpedo-shaped. They have a very distinctive criss-cross pattern.
The young leaves are deep purple with silky hairs, which become even darker as they mature and less hairy. They are 4–9cm long, stalked, oval and pointed at the tip, with a wavy edge. It is monoecious which means both the male and female flowers grow on the same tree but in different parts. They flower in April and May but with climate change I have seen them flower in late March. The female flowers grow in pairs, surrounded by a cup and the tassel-like male catkins hang from long stalks at the end of the twigs.
The leaves are 4–9cm long, oval and pointed at the tip, with a wavy edge. The young leaves are edible and go well in a salad.
The fruit is also known as beech mast. Inside the woody burrs are triangular shaped nuts which are edible (when cooked).
Beech requires a humid atmosphere and well-drained soil. It is said to be sensitive to winter frost but the trees and hedges I have come across have always done fine during frosty weather. The natural habitat extends over a large part of Europe from southern Sweden to northern Sicily. Beech woodland is shady and is 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 underneath a beech canopy.
The roots of Beech are typically quite shallow so additional care of these great trees is needed when they are in residential areas. Ideally the land owners should be regularly checking the condition of the tree as it matures to ensure any early signs of weakness or decay fungi are dealt with swiftly. Poor care of mature trees during their mature stages often leads to equally poor decisions to fix the problem - i.e felling. Prevention is always better than cure - something responsible land owners understand. I have seen two great Copper beeches felled due to the poor care and lack of understanding by the landowners.
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
- Copper beeches appeared as natural mutants of the common beech in various parts of Europe, as early as the 15th century
- Copper beech, also known as purple beech, is a cultivar of common beech
- Grows to a height of more than 40m and is also used as hedges
- Twigs are slender and grey but not straight - their shape is a bit zig-zag
- Torpedo-shaped leaf buds are coppery and up to 2cm in length, with a distinctive criss-cross pattern
- The leaves are coppery to deep purple in colour, oval and fringed
- The young leaves have silky brown hairs
- It is monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers grow on the same tree
- once wind pollinated, the female flowers turn into wooden. spiky fruits
- Inside the fruit are one or two reddish brown beech nuts (known as beechmast)
- It is widely grown as an ornamental tree for its distinctive purple leaves
- The bark is often home to a variety of fungi, mosses and lichens
- The wood burns well and was traditionally used to smoke herring
- The edible nuts, or masts, were once used to feed pigs
- In France they are still sometimes roasted and used as a coffee substitute
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