Cut-leaf beech is quite rare in comparison to Common beech and Copper beech. These unusual trees are not classified as a native species of the UK because it is an ornamental cultivar. Other than the 'cut leaves' it shares many characteristics of Common beech which can make identification difficult during the winter. It does not like pollution so is not suitable as a street tree. When in leaf it is particularly stunning - especially under the deep canopy.
Cut-leaf beech is a medium sized, deciduous tree and can live for hundreds of years. 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 root system of Beech is quite shallow and parts are often exposed
The bark is smooth, thin and grey, often accompanied with lichen
The young leaves are bright green with silky hairs, which become even darker as they mature and less hairy. They are up to 10cm long, stalked and deeply serrated which is why it gets the name cut-leaf or fern-leaved beech. 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 mature leaves are dark green, long and deeply serrated
During the autumn the ground will be littered with both leaves and mast / nuts
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. Only specialist shade tolerant plants can survive underneath a beech canopy.
The female flowers gradually mature into 'Beech mast'
The dense canopy of Beech means only shade tolerant plants can thrive.
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. There are only a handful of these great trees across Exeter which is a shame as they have such stunning leaves and take up less space than Common beech or Copper beech.