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Introducing the Beautiful Beech

Updated on August 6, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

Under the overhanging branches the woodland path meandered this way and that passing rough barked trees with bramble at their feet. About the trees insects danced in the dappled light that penetrated through to the woodland floor. I have always had a feeling of contentment with the quiet of a summer woodland. In the woods rich embrace I came upon a group of silver grey columns supporting great spreading canopies of dense green foliage.

I stopped and sat for a spell just to admire these most handsome of trees the beautiful beech. As I sat gazing upon its mighty boughs I recalled a quote that I had read some years ago and as always stayed with me-" The nicest dwelling built by man, can not compare with the lovely beech in maturity"

Young Beech foliage. Bottom.Components of Beech

The bright new foliage of the beech with the small male catkins. Photograph by D.A.L.
The bright new foliage of the beech with the small male catkins. Photograph by D.A.L.
Components of the beech tree.Courtesy of Kurt Steuber.
Components of the beech tree.Courtesy of Kurt Steuber.

Basic Botany of the Beech Tree.

It is a tree that thrives in the moist climate here in the north west of England. However, the tree is in fact only native to the southern counties of England, so in our region, although well established, they are all relatives of trees that were originally planted here by man. This tree is favoured for planting in parks and large gardens where they make an impressive display. The seed readily germinate and the beech is here to stay.

They can achieve the height of up to 40metres and may well live for around 250 years. The trunk is straight and slender when young but then becomes much more cylindrical with a great girth when matured.

ROOTS-- The roots that anchor this mighty tree into the earth are relatively shallow, spreading out rather than penetrating deeply, thus they are vulnerable to high winds and gales. The hurricane that hit England during the 1980s caused huge losses to the beech populations.

LEAVES--The buds, even during winter, are easily recognised by there slim bullet shaped appearance. In spring the buds respond to the alchemy of light, warmth and moisture. They burst forth in the second week of May{in our region} and they do so consistently year after year take or give a day or two. Studies have revealed that the amount of rainfall during the summer has a great bearing on how many leaves are contained in the bud. However, as the tree gets older this tendency seems to diminish somewhat..

The leaves are small in comparison with the height and spread of the tree. They are 5-10cm long by 3.7 cm broad. They have six to seven veins on either side of the midrib of the leaf blade. The foliage is shiny green above and below, soft and lush when they first appear but has the summer progresses they become much more leathery in texture. The margins of the leaves are somewhat wavy. They turn a beautiful orange gold colour before they fall in Autumn. Young trees tend to hang on to their brittle bronzed foliage throughout the winter months.


Male catkins

The male catkins appear with the leaves but they soon fall away after pollination has occurred and are replaced by the reddish female flowers which are encased in a tiny green cup, borne on very short stalks. The fruit {nuts} develop inside a rough surfaced four valved husk . When ripe this case splits open to release the triangular shaped nuts. The husk and seeds are collectively known as mast.

The tre produces copious amounts of mast which are sought out by birds such as the nuthatch, chaffinch and bramble, ans mammals such as the grey squirrel and mice. In the second century of the trees life they are prone to rot and thus hollows, nooks and crannies are formed. These are utilised by bats, birds and insects for protection and shelter. Hence the beech is an important tree as far as wildlife is concerned.

Beech

This old beech tree is utilised by animals that take advantage of the many nooks and crannies. Photograph by D.A.L.
This old beech tree is utilised by animals that take advantage of the many nooks and crannies. Photograph by D.A.L.
A stand of beech trees. Photograph by D.AL.
A stand of beech trees. Photograph by D.AL.

Uses of Beech Wood

The tree has been widely employed to enhance parks and large gardens. Young trees can be trained to produce a fine hedge which is impenetrable to man. Because they cling on to their leaves in winter they offer protection to less hardy species from the biting , bitter winds.

The wood is relatively tough and is used to make furniture frames, work bench tops, and because it is split resistant  is made into wooden mallets and kitchen utensils. Beech wood is used to impart flavour into beer in certain countries.

Trunk of the Beech

The unmistakeable trunk of the beech tree. Photograph by D.A.L.
The unmistakeable trunk of the beech tree. Photograph by D.A.L.

Medicinal and Culinary Uses.

In archaic times, beech bark, wood, leaves and seeds have been employed as an astringent and for its antiseptic and disinfecting qualities. It is a generally cooling agent and used to treat the symptoms of fever in days gone by. It was stated that just standing beneath the dense canopy of beech would cool the head and give a stimulating affect.

The ash of beech wood was one of the main ingredients of an ointment which was applied to boils and sores. An infusion of the foliage was applied as a lotion to dab onto inflamed skin.

The Bach Flower Remedy of Beech enhances sympathy and tolerance. { see hubs by Shalini Kagal for Bach flower remedies-well worth the visit}.

young beech leaves may be eaten fresh, they are well employed in soups and as additions to salads. The nuts are edible and may be eaten raw or roasted. They contain protein and up to 50% fatty oil.  A cooking oil was once produced by pressing the nuts. It was as popular in its day as the sun flower is to days kitchen.

The mast was also the main food for foraging animals such as free range pigs that were once a common sight  in our countryside.

Naked boughs. below. Young trees cling on to their leaves

Even in winter the naked boughs of the beech make an impressive sight. Photograph by D.A.L.
Even in winter the naked boughs of the beech make an impressive sight. Photograph by D.A.L.
Young trees cling on doggedly to their leaves throughout winter. Photograph by D.A.L.
Young trees cling on doggedly to their leaves throughout winter. Photograph by D.A.L.

Comments

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    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      tonymac04, thank you for your visit and for leaving your appreciated comment.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Such beautiful trees. And your Hub is awesome. Thanks for sharing.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      B, thank you once again for visiting glad to share my knowledge with you.

    • Joy56 profile image

      Joy56 7 years ago

      i used to be a florist, and loved to arrange brown beech leaves with yellow chrysanths, this was an interesting article about beech leaves, i did not know much about them before.

    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Darlene it is I that must thank you, for your loyal reading and your kind comments. I have read your hub about the Tiagr forest which was well worth the visit. Your love for nature is one we both share and enjoy.

      Kaie Arwen, thank you also for your kind comment.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Tree's my favorite slice of nature are trees, it is love at first sight upon your photos on these proud and wonderful trees. You must read my hub about, "The tiagr forest, help save these special trees" I believe it might have been my first hub. I so love your thoughts about nature, I can hear the trees grow and stretch out their arms to touch one another. Thank you my dear friend, for all the joy you bring to us nature lovers everywhere...

    • Kaie Arwen profile image

      Kaie Arwen 8 years ago

      it is indeed beautiful!

      kaie

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