|European Beech leaves and cupules|
Fagus crenata – Japanese Beech
The leaves of beech trees are smooth with light hairs and with a smooth or slightly toothed edge, they are from 5–15 cm long and 4–10 cm broad. The flowers are small and single-sex (monoecious), the female flowers are carried in pairs, the male flowers are wind-pollinating catkins, produced in spring shortly after the new leaves appear. The bark is smooth and light grey. The fruit is a small, sharply three–anglend nut 10–15 mm long, borne singly or in pairs in soft-spined husks 1.5–2.5 cm long, known as cupules. The nuts are edible, though bitter (though not nearly as bitter as acorns) with a high tannin content, and are called beechnuts or beechmast.
Beech grows on a wide range of soil types, acid or basic, provided they are not wet for long periods. The tree canopy casts a heavy shade shade, and the leaves, when dropped, cover the ground thickly. Few plant grow under beech trees.
In North America, they often form Beech-Maple forests by growing together with the Sugar Maple.
Uses of BeechwoodEdit
The beech has been used for its wood by man for thousands of years. The wood is white, or reddish if grown on acid soil, but fine grained, smooth and heavy when first cut. It may split as it dries. It is a good wood for making ornaments, tool handles, kitchen utensils, furniture and parts of buildings. Beechwood burns well and is used, among other woods, to smoke herrings in Scotland. It can also be made into charcoal.
The southern beeches Nothofagus previously thought closely related to beeches, are now treated as members of a separate family, Nothofagaceae. They are found in Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, New Caledonia, Argentina and Chile (mostly on the southern tip in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego).
Pests and DiseasesEdit
The beech blight aphid (Grylloprociphilus imbricator) is a common pest of beech trees. Beeches are also used as food plants by some species of butterflies and moths (see List of moths and butterflies that feed on beech trees).