Fagus sylvatica, the European Beech or Common Beech, is a deciduous tree belonging to the beech family Fagaceae.
It is a large tree, capable of reaching heights of up to 49 m (160 ft) tall and 3 m (10 ft) trunk diameter, though more typically 25–35 m (80–115 ft) tall and up to 1.5 m (5 ft) trunk diameter. A 10-year-old sapling will stand about 4 m (13 ft) tall. It has a typical lifespan of 150 to 200 years, though sometimes up to 300 years. The appearance varies according to its habitat; in forest conditions, it tends to have a long, slender light-gray trunk with a narrow crown and erect branches, in isolation with good side light the trunk is short with a large and widely spreading crown with very long branches.
The leaves are alternate, simple, and entire or with a slightly crenate margin, 5–10 cm long and 3–7 cm broad, with 6-7 veins on each side of the leaf (7-10 veins in Fagus orientalis). When crenate, there is one point at each vein tip, never any points between the veins. The buds are long and slender, 15–30 mm long and 2–3 mm thick, but thicker (to 4–5 mm) where the buds include flower buds
The leaves of beech are often not abscissed in the autumn and instead remain on the tree until the spring. This process is called marcescence. This particularly occurs when trees are saplings or when plants are clipped as a hedge (making beech hedges attractive screens, even in winter), but it also often continues to occur on the lower branches when the tree is mature.
The European Beech starts to flower when it is between 30–80 years old. The flowers are small catkins which appear shortly after the leaves in spring. The seeds, called beechnuts, are small triangular nuts 15–20 mm long and 7–10 mm wide at the base; there are two nuts in each cupule, maturing in the autumn 5–6 months after pollination. Flower and seed production is particularly abundant in years following a hot, sunny and dry summer, though rarely for two years in a row. The nuts are an important food for birds, rodents and in the past also humans. Slightly toxic to humans if eaten in large quantities due to the tannins they contain, the nuts were nonetheless pressed to obtain an oil in 19th century England that was used for cooking and in lamps. They were also ground to make flour, which could be eaten after the tannins were leached out by soaking.
The natural range extends from southern Sweden to central Italy, west to France, southern England, northern Portugal, central Spain, and east to northwest Turkey, where it intergrades with the Oriental Beech (F. orientalis), which replaces it further east. In the Balkans, it shows some hybridisation with Oriental Beech; these hybrid trees are named Fagus x taurica. In the southern part of its range around the Mediterranean, it grows only in mountain forests, at 600-1,800 m altitude.
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