Beeches are grand trees, capable of growing 90 ft. tall and 60 ft. wide after many years. Their majestic outlines range from rounded to broadly pyramidal, with wide, sweeping lower branches that sometimes touch the ground; some selections weep attractively. Handsome, smooth gray bark contrasts nicely with glossy, dark green foliage. In autumn, leaves turn yellow with green veins, then golden or reddish brown, then fade to tan; these buff-colored leaves hang on through most of winter and are quite beautiful in the winter landscape. A layered, lacy branching pattern and long, pointed leaf buds add to the attractive winter silhouette. Small nuts enclosed in spiny husks attract squirrels, blue jays, and other wildlife.
Beeches aren't the easiest trees to work into a home landscape. They are too large for smaller lots; their thick network of surface roots and the heavy shade they cast make it almost impossible to grow a lawn or other plants beneath them. However, they work well at the edge of a woodland or in naturalized areas. Fancy-leafed or weeping forms of European beech (F. sylvatica) are good as specimens or accents.
F. crenata. JAPANESE BEECH. Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7. From Japan. Leaves scallop edged, somewhat smaller than those of other beeches. Reddish brown fall color. Likes some shade, especially when young.
F. grandifolia. AMERICAN BEECH. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. A stately tree and a principal component of the vast hardwood forests that once covered much of the eastern U.S. Tolerates shade and makes a good understory tree when young. More tolerant of summer heat than the other two species described here; can be grown farther south. Cigar-shaped buds. Toothed, 3- to 6-in.-long leaves turn golden bronze in fall, then to a beautiful parchment tan. They stay on the tree throughout winter. Handsome silvery gray bark. Allow plenty of room for this tree.
F. sylvatica. EUROPEAN BEECH. Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7. Native from central Europe to the Caucasus. Lustrous green leaves to 4 in. long turn russet and bronzy in autumn. Many selections, including the following.
'Asplenifolia' (F. s. heterophylla 'Asplenifolia'). FERNLEAF BEECH. Large, robust, spreading tree with delicate-looking foliagenarrow leaves, deeply cut or lobed nearly to the midrib.
'Black Swan'. Upright tree to about 25 ft. tall and 12 ft. wide, with strongly weeping side branches. Leaves are shiny black-purple.
'Dawyck' ('Fastigiata'). DAWYCK BEECH. Narrow, upright tree; just 8 ft. wide when 35 ft. tall. Broader in great age but still narrower than the species.
'Dawyck Gold'. Columnar tree to 60 ft. tall, 20 ft. wide. New leaves emerge yellow, mature to light green, and turn yellow again in autumn.
'Dawyck Purple'. Columnar, to 70 ft. tall, 15 ft. wide, with purple foliage.
'Laciniata'. CUTLEAF BEECH. Narrow, deeply cut green leaves.
'Pendula'. WEEPING BEECH. Irregular, spreading form with green leaves and long, weeping branches that reach to the ground and can root where they touch. Without staking to establish vertical trunk, it will grow wide rather than high.
'Purpurea Pendula'. WEEPING COPPER BEECH. Purple-leafed weeping form matures to 10 ft. tall and wide. Splendid container plant.
'Riversii'. COPPER BEECH, PURPLE BEECH. The most widely sold of the purple-leaved types. Grows 5060 ft. tall and 3545 ft. wide. Deep reddish or purple leaves hold color all summer.
'Rohan Obelisk' ('Red Obelisk'). Columnar growth to 1540 ft. high and 310 ft. wide. Dark purple-red foliage. Some leaves are deeply cut, others are smooth-edged.
'Rohanii'. Wavy-edged leaves open dark purple and gradually mature to green. Fall color is reddish to purplish brown.
'Tricolor'. TRICOLOR BEECH. Grows slowly to 2440 ft., usually less. Green leaves are marked white and edged pink. Foliage burns in hot sun or dry winds. Choice container plant.
'Zlatia'. GOLDEN BEECH. Leaves are yellow when new, then age to yellow-green. Subject to sunburn. Good container plant.
Beeches like deep, fertile, loose, soil that is neutral to slightly acid. Never park cars or heavy vehicles under a large beech, as this crushes sensitive feeder roots and results in the tree's slow demise. Woolly beech aphids on the undersides of the leaves sometimes cause the foliage to pucker, turn blotchy, and drop, but they are seldom a serious problem.