TREES & plants

European beech

Summer foliage of the European beech.

European beech is a large, graceful tree appropriate for large properties like parks.  This species has smooth silvery gray bark and a low branching pattern.

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; Oak
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
  • 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
  • Cavity-nesting birds, 
  • Game birds, 
  • Small mammals, 
  • Songbirds
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Does not tolerate wet or compacted soil; drought sensitive and must be watered well in dry periods.
Avoid foot trafic over the root system.

Disease, pests, and problems

Generally low maintenance, but 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

Simple, alternate leaves with shallow teeth; attractive dark green; 2 to 4 inches long.
Fall color is russet or bronze.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

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

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

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

Cultivars and their differences 

Fern-leaved European Beech  (Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’):  Graceful, lustrous green cut leaves turn golden brown in fall.

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.

Tricolored 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.

Fagus sylvatica or European beech