Forest 80 - European Beech

Fagus sylvatica

Fruit and leaves of Fagus sylvatica tree at Kew Gardens. Photo by L Muldoon 

Other common names

Common beech.

Origin of the species name

Fagus isthe Latin name for beeches from the Greek meaning to eat - edible nuts; sylvatica is from Latin for forest.



Date planted

August 2009


Expected lifespan is 150-300 years.

Fagus sylvatica tree. Photo not from the Arboretum

General description

This is a tall deciduous tree with a usually straight trunk with smooth grey bark. The crown is wide spread and the foliage dense. The leaves are a delicate light green turning an attractive gold in autumn. The flowers are small catkins and the seed are borne in bristly husks. Height 25m Spread 15m.

Natural distribution and habitat

The species is widely spread in Europe and is native to areas from the United Kingdom to Turkey where it grows in woodlands, often in near-pure stands. It is found in a wide range of habitats, but prefers chalky soils and limestone.

Conservation status

Although it is not classified as a threatened species, vast areas of natural forest have been cleared over time for agriculture and it is thought that a large proportion of the species' genetic diversity has been lost. Because of this the conservation and sustainable use of the remaining natural Beech forests in Europe is regarded as an important environmental goal.

Planting pattern

Trees are densely planted around the perimeter, gradually thinning to open woodland in the centre.


The timber is one of the most valuable produced in Europe, with a straight grain and creamy colour, which is widely used for making upmarket furniture and flooring. Waster and lesser quality wood are used for firewood, smoking food and paper pulp. In the past, the nuts were ground to make flour, which could be eaten after the tannins were leached out. In 19th century England, the nuts were also pressed to obtain oil for cooking and lamps. Many cultivars have been developed for horticultural use.

Further reading

Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins.