Common Beech Fagus sylvatica
The Common Beech is the dominant tree of woodlands in south and central England. It can easily be identified by its leaves, fruit and bark. It grows strongly on well-drained chalk soils found, for example, in The Chilterns. It does not like wet ground. It has been planted in woods, gardens and parks throughout Britain. Beech wood from The Chilterns was used as firewood for London, then when coal replaced it, for furniture. It is a large tree and can grow to 40m. In some years there is a huge crop of oil-rich beech nuts. These are known as ‘mast’ years where ‘mast’ is an old word for ‘fruit of the forest’. In former times pigs were fattened up on beech nuts and acorns prior to going to market.
Tree in May.
Leaves have wavy edges and no teeth.
Leaves in mid July.
Male and female flowers are on the same tree. In this photo the male flowers are hanging down and releasing pollen which will be carried by the wind. The female flower is at the top. Photo taken in early May.
The fruit is in the form of two nuts inside a husk. The crop of nuts is called ‘mast’ and for centuries was used to fatten up pigs. This photo shows a pair of triangular Beech nuts inside an open husk in August. Often the nuts are dry but in ‘mast’ years, every 4 years or so, they are fat and edible.
The bark is very smooth and grey. It is an ideal surface for carving.