Plants, flowers and fungi of Great Britain at a glance
Latin name: Fagus sylvatica Common name: Beech
Other names: European beech How to spot it and where to find it: The stately beech can grow to 40m tall with a magnificent domed crown. It likes free-draining soils such as chalk or limestone and is found mostly in southern England and south Wales. Its bark is thin, smooth and grey, and its leaves have wavy edges. Young leaves are lime green and covered with fine silky hairs, which they lose as they mature. The tree produces male catkins and female flowers, which form into prickly husks. As they ripen, they split to release the shiny brown nuts.
Interesting facts: The amount of beechmast — or beech nuts — produced varies considerably; seasons when they are plentiful are known as Mast Years. Beech woodland is vital habitat for many butterflies, and the foliage is eaten by caterpillars of several moths, including the barred hook-tip, clay triple-lines and olive crescent. Seeds are eaten by mice, voles, squirrels and birds. The wood burns well and was traditionally used to smoke herring, and the edible masts were once used to feed pigs. The beech was thought to have medicinal qualities — the leaves were used to reduce swellings and boiled to make a poultice.
The beech is associated with femininity and is often considered the queen of trees