The botanical name of the beech tree is Fagus sylvatica. It is an important timber tree that belongs to the Fagaceae family. In Celtic mythology the beech was considered a symbol of potency and thanksgiving, and was used for worship. Charles Darwin speaks of the beech tree in his The Voyage of the Beagle and Walter Scott mentions it in his famous novel Ivanhoe.
Europe, America, and Asia are the countries where it first grew though now you find it in many other places. Beech trees don't grow very fast but they live for nearly 400 years or more.
European beech that you find mainly in England, Denmark, and Germany has dark, gray bark and shiny leaves. The leaves remain on the trees most of the winter though they turn red-brown in autumn. The tree grows to a height of 100 feet or more. Beech trees have shallow roots and they usually send up a lot suckers. As a result, large trees are often surrounded by a thicket of smaller ones.
European beeches are beautiful and look very decorative. The copper beech, purple beech, and cut-leaf beech are some of them. They make handsome shade trees for large open areas in parks and golf courses.
You'll find American beeches in Louisiana and Florida, right up to Ontario and Nova Scotia. It has a smooth blue-gray bark and grows up to 80 feet in height. It has narrow, saw-toothed, blue-green leaves that are about 5 inches long and turn yellow in autumn.
The beech has two kinds of flowers. The first are yellow-green in color and hang from threadlike stems. The other comes in sets of two. These hang on short, hairy stems on the same tree. These are the ones that have nuts inside them and grow prickly burs outside when the nuts are ripe.
The Chinese beech that grows in Asia is about 65 feet tall, and the Japanese beech, up to 79 feet tall. The Mexican beech or haya is a timber tree that grows to a height of 130 feet. It has wedge-shaped leaves. The Oriental beech is a pyramid-shaped tree that grows in Asia and Europe. It is nearly 100 feet tall. It has a grayish-white trunk and wedge-shaped leaves that curl up at the edges. The leaves are nearly 6 inches long.
There are many other kinds of beeches. But you will be surprised to know that nearly 40 trees are wrongly called beeches and actually belong to some other family. They are called "false beeches". The Australian beech, blue beech, water beech, Malay bush beech, and red beech, are not beech at all. They merely look a little like beech trees.
Beech wood, that's pale red-brown in color, has many uses. It is tough, lasts for long, and doesn't get spoiled by water. It is used for making indoor furniture. It's especially good for making tool handles and shipping containers. Wood turners use beech for making goblets with delicate stems. It is also ideal for making cutting boards and spoons because it has no smell or taste and you can really rough-use it. Many animals eat beechnuts. The nuts are given to the poultry for fattening them.
They are also used for making oil.
Another interesting point. Beech make excellent bonsai.