European beech

Summer foliage of the European beech.

European beech is a large, graceful tree appropriate for large properties like parks and golf courses.  Known for its smooth silvery gray bark, short trunk and a low branching habit.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Fagus sylvatica

All Common Names:

European beech, Common beech

Family (English):

Beech and Oak

Family (Botanic):

Fagaceae

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree

Foliage:

  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • City parkway,
  • Wide median

Landscape Uses:

  • Parkway/street,
  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)

Mature Height:

50-60 feet

Mature Width:

35-45 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil

Acid Soils:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Intolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Intolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Intolerant

Ornamental Interest:

  • Fall color,
  • Edible fruit,
  • Attractive bark

Season of Interest:

  • Early winter,
  • Mid winter,
  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall,
  • Late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Pyramidal,
  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Slow

Transplants Well:

  • Yes

Wildlife:

  • Cavity-nesting birds,
  • Game birds,
  • Small mammals,
  • Songbirds

More Information:

Size & Form

Dense, upright oval habit with low sweeping branches on a short trunk.
Trees reach 50 to 60 feet high and 35 to 45 feet wide.

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun to part shade in well drained soils. Tolerant of higher pH soils than American beech.
Does not tolerate wet or compacted soil; drought sensitive and must be watered well in dry periods.
Benefits with a layer of mulch to conserve moisture and moderate soil temperature fluctuation.
Avoid foot traffic over the root system.
Trees are long-lived.

Disease, pests, and problems

Cankers can be a problem.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Europe.

European beech (Fagus sylvatica)
European beech (Fagus sylvatica)
photo: John Hagstrom

Bark color and texture 

Bark is smooth gray with an elephant-hide appearance.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, simple leaves, 2 to 5 inches long with shallow teeth; attractive glossy dark green
Fall color is russet or bronze often persisting into winter.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Inconspicuous; separate male and female flowers on the same tree.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Edible beechnuts, 3-winged, triangular shape; usually two nuts in a prickly husk.

Cultivars and their differences

Fern-leaved European beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Asplenifolia'): A graceful, dark green, cut-leaved foliage which turns a golden brown in fall; reaches 60 feet high and 50 feet wide. Often confused with 'Laciniata'.

Dawyck Purple Leaved beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Dawyck Purple'): A narrow tree reaching 30 to 40 feet high and 10 to 12 feet wide with purple foliage.

Upright European beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Fastigiata'): Columnar, upright beech reaching 45 feet high and 15 feet wide with dark green leaves.

Red Obelisk European beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Red Obelisk'): A narrow, columnar habit with purple leaves reaching 35 feet high and 12 feet wide.

River’s Copper beech  (Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’) : A purple-leaved selection featuring large glossy leaves; foliage emerges deep purple in spring, fades to purple-green in summer and finally turns copper in autumn; 50 to 60 feet high and 45 feet wide.

Tricolor European beech   (Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea Tricolor’) :  This cultivar has purple leaves with an irregular rose and pinkish white border; smaller than the species (30 feet tall).  Light shade during the heat of the day is needed to keep the light colored leaf edges from burning.

Weeping European beech  (Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’)A weeping form with variable shape reaching 40 feet high and 30 feet wide. There is also a weeping purple form.

Location of Fagus sylvatica (European beech) at the Arboretum