Common Beech

Fagus sylvatica

Common Beech (Fagus sCommon Beech (Fagus sylvatica)ylvatica)This is one of my very favourite places to be, in a beech wood in autumn. The trees so tall and reaching for the sky, and the leaves as golden as the sun reflected off them are indeed a sight to behold.


Also called the ‘European Beech’, these are immense deciduous trees which can grow up toa  height of 40m (131ft), and which provide one of the most beautiful autumn spectacles when its leaves turn a bright golden-yellow. They have broad, rounded crowns. These towering trees can have huge overhanging, arching boughs if given the space to grow. In closely wooded areas they will grow with columnar straight boles with few branches in a bid to reach the light. The bark is usually grey and smooth, but may also be ridged and rougher. The smoother bark holds centuries old ‘graffiti’, for it is soft and easy to carve into. The leaves are up to 10cm long, dark green and are oval and pointed, and give a beautiful show of autumn colours. The leaves take a long time to rot down and greatly improve the fertility of the soil, and often beech woods have thick carpets of leaves which hinders growth of other plants beneath, except for some orchids. The white flowers produce beechnuts (beechmast) enclosed in a prickly case, and are an important woodland food source for birds and mammals. It flowers from April to May, and fruits September to November. The Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’),  is a mutation turning the leaves dark purple. Also compare the Fern-leaved Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’), which has very interesting deeply cut leaves. Beech trees can live for 300 years or more.

Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica) leaves

Found in woodland, parks and large estates. A native species, it is common on chalky soils, and ranges south-east and mid England. Beeches can be giants, towering over other trees, and they can live up to 300 years and over. However, because of their heavy, bulky mass and because they tend to grow in weak structured, chalky soils, they suffer greatly from windfall in storms and high winds. The great storm of 1987 which swept across southern England bought down many thousands of mature trees. Once thought to have been bought over by the Romans, however pollen dating suggests they have been in Britain since the last ice age.

Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica) leaves

The timber makes beautiful furniture, it is used for kitchen utensils like spoons, tool handles and tools, and sports equipment. It also makes an excellent fuel for burning, and is used to smoke herrings.

Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica) beechmast

Photographs of Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica), taken November 2012, Warley Woods, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012. Camera used Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38.

On The Ground of The Beech Wood

Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica) beech mast shell

Photograph of Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica) beech mast shell, taken October 2016, local wood, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.

Beech Trees of Warley Woods

Common Beech - Fagus sylvatica

I have always known Warley Woods in Smethwick since I was a young child. It was a relatively short distance from our house, and my Mom used to take me and my sister there for walks where we would see squirrels scurrying up the tall trees. Thinking about it now, I suppose this may well be one of those things in life which got me hooked on nature and wildlife.

Veteran Beech, Warley Woods

Warley Woods has a lot of history, and it is predominately made up of beech trees (Common Beech – Fagus sylvatica). They rise tall like giants into the sky, but a couple of other trees have stretched outwards with huge limbs which look like they want to give you a welcome hug – trees hugging the tree huggers lol! Anyway, one of these beech trees was a veteran beech, maybe over 200 years old at the time the photo was taken back in 2010. That is the one with the moss laden branch in the image below. Sadly, on the 19th August 2013, this huge monumental beech was felled after it had died.

Warley Woods

Photographs taken June 2010. Warley Woods, Smethwick.