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Tree to 50 m x 1(-1.3?) m dbh, parkland or coppiced trees considerably thicker. Bark pale grey. Young shoots silky hairy at first, becoming more or less glabrous. Leaves oval-elliptic, apex acute, base rounded, (3-)4-10 cm x 2.5-4 cm, 5-8 pairs of veins, margins ciliate or remotely and very finely toothed (distinctly lobed in some cultivars), bright green above, pale green below, with a silky pubescence on both sides along midrib and primary veins at least when young; petiole 0.3-1 cm. Perianth of male flowers divided almost to base. Peduncles densely pubescent, 2.5 cm. Cupule c. 2.5 cm, scales are of one kind, needle-like. (Tutin et al. (eds) 1993, Cullen et al. (eds) 2011).
Distribution Albania Austria Belgium Bosnia and Herzegovina Bulgaria Czechia Denmark France Germany Greece Hungary Italy In the valleys of the Maritime and Italian Alps, in the Appenine mountains, south to Calabria and the mountains of northeastern Sicily Luxembourg Macedonia Moldova Montenegro Netherlands Norway At low elevations in SE Buskerud, SE Telemark, and Vestfold Poland Romania Russia Serbia Slovakia Slovenia Spain In a continuous belt from the Catalonian Pyrenees, within site of the Mediterranean Sea, westward into the Cantabrian mountains as far as western Asturias Sweden Southern Sweden, on the west coast as far north as the Norwegian border, with its northern limit inland passing just south of Lakes Vänern and Vättern, to Västervik on the Baltic coast Switzerland Turkey Restricted to mountains in northern Kirklareli Province Ukraine United Kingdom Southern England, and should possibly be considered native much further north (see main text)
Habitat Native in woods on well drained soils, especially in hills and mountains. Not naturally at home on poorly drained soils or in low-lying plains, etc., but extensively planted everywhere.
USDA Hardiness Zone 4
RHS Hardiness Rating H7
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
A great many authors have extolled the aesthetic and practical virtues of the European Beech, from Virgil and Pliny to Keats and Evelyn, admiring its fine shape, smooth bark, exquisite pale green spring flush and the copper of its autumn colours. Elwes & Henry (1906) devote a full 22 pages of their seminal tome to it. The volume of praise heaped upon it by the famous British dendrologist Alan Mitchell is equalled only by the scorn with which he fervently lashes the purple-leaved cultivars of the same (Mitchell 1996). More recently it was the fate of a group of Beech in Ireland that precipitated Thomas Pakenham’s series of photo-essays on ‘Remarkable Trees’ at home and abroad (Pakenham 1996).
The species has a large native range, centred on central and western Europe where it can form extensive forests at lower elevations, blending into mixed coniferous forests and eventually giving way to conifers entirely at higher elevations. It is native to Scandinavia, at least in southern Sweden and south east Norway, and to Britain, having made it across just before the land bridge with continental Europe slipped beneath the waves. It extends east, to the north of the Black Sea as far as the mountains of the Crimea, and to the south-west it reaches the Pyrenees and the Cantabrian mountains of northern Spain (Tutin et al. (eds) 1993, Krüssmann 1984). To the south-east European Beech is native as far the Balkan peninsula, but here it blends into F. orientalis which extends from the eastern Balkans through Turkey, into the Caucasus, and hence to the Hyrcanian forests south of the Caspian in Iran. Hybrid forms occur where the two species meet (Kandemir & Kaya 2009, Davis 1984).
As with so many plants European Beech’s ‘nativeness’ becomes a contentious issue on the fringes of these areas, and the question generates excited debate. Ill-judged interventions have even led to mature beech woodlands being extirpated in Scotland on the grounds of non-nativeness (BBC News 2015), a rather illogical form of botanical xenophobia that is also prevalent in Ireland and Belgium where the Beech is an important element of landscape heritage, a factor that should never be overlooked.
The largest and oldest examples may be found safely away from Scotland, in the species’ heartland in western and central Europe. Various open-grown trees have attained enormous size here, for example at Gutspark, Hoppenrade, Germany (8.76 m girth in 2016); at Monte Limitaciones, Parque Natural de Urbasa y Andía, Aranaratxe, Spain (7.14 m girth in 2016); at Schlosspark, Laxenburg, Austria (7 m girth in 2014); and at Château Le Kinnor, Calvados, France (6.7 m girth in 2012). The tallest examples recorded anywhere are in Germany. A tree growing in woods east of Burg Ronneburg, Gründau, Hesse, was 49.2 m when measured in 2014. Several others only slightly shorter grow in the same woods. In Kalná Roztoka, Prešov, Slovakia, trees have recently been recorded to 47 and 48.3 m. Various other examples exceeding 45 m are known from Austria, France, and Belgium (monumentaltrees.com 2019). It is likely that many more comparable examples will be discovered in central Europe over the coming years.
Alan Mitchell, that great measurer of trees, cautioned against the generation of extensive and definitive lists of the tallest and widest examples in the UK and Ireland given that Beech isn’t an especially long-lived tree there – 250 to 300 years is good going – and when older than 200 years trees are liable to die suddenly without much warning: “Unlike the oak, which takes an inordinate time to die, the beech does it over a weekend” (Mitchell 1996). This being the case, ‘champion’ status is likely to move from tree to tree regularly, particularly as a large generation of trees planted in the UK and Ireland 200-250 years ago reaches senescence. Nevertheless, it is worth commenting on some remarkable trees that have been recorded in the past, and a small selection of the very best known today.
The tallest example cited by Bean was a tree that had grown in a woodland environment in Ashridge Park, Buckinghamshire, and was known as the ‘Queen Beech’. It was measured by Loudon and later by Elwes & Henry, between these two observations it was found to be 39 – 42 m tall (130 – 140 ft) (Bean 1981). In 1982 a tree growing in the woods at Beaufront Castle, Northumberland, was measured by Alan Mitchell and found to be 43.9 m (144 ft) tall, but this has not been re-measured in recent years (Tree Register 2019). More recently eleven British trees have been found exceeding 40 m. One at Willsersley Castle, Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, was measured at 45 m tall in 2018 - the tallest ever record for the species in the UK and Ireland. Another tree nearby was 44.2 m. Other trees exceeding 40 m include: Newtimber Holt Wood, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, 44 m in 2015; Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, 43.5 m in 2015; Workman’s Wood, Ebworth, Gloucestershire, 42 m in 2018; Duncombe Park, North Yorkshire, 41 m in 2013; Yester House, East Lothian, 40 – 41 m in 2016; Lowther Park, Cumbria, 40 m in 2013; Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, 40 m in 2012; Knole Park, Kent, 40 m in 2014. (Tree Register 2019).
All these are examples of trees growing in woodland, or near-woodland environments, hence the trees have been drawn up and have attained great height. Various commentators over the years have distinguished between this sort of Beech and ones that have been grown in open situations, for example in parkland or on lawns. One of the most remarkable ever recorded in the latter category is a tree that grew at Newbattle, Midlothian, Scotland. Elwes (1906) described it as “the most remarkable, if not the largest, of all the Beeches of the spreading type now standing in Britain”. This enthusiastic commentary was on account of the lower branches of the tree having layered when they reached the lawn on which the tree grew. Over one hundred years later the original trunk has long since died and decayed, but the layered branches have taken root and a semi-circle of new Beech trees provide a tantalising link to the past (Rodger, Stokes, & Ogilvie 2006).
The Newbattle Beech was an open-grown tree on a single stem, but historically Beech have been pollarded in many parts of Europe and enormous Beech pollards may be found – the largest known so far is a gigantic mass at Plas Newydd, Llanfairpwll, Wales, which had a girth of 9.97 m when measured in 2016 (Tree Register 2019). Beech remains an important tree in European designed landscapes but was perhaps in the first tier of ornamental trees up until the late-19th century, when an influx of new species from around the world began to arrive in European collections. Before then the choice was limited, and the grandeur, adaptability, and variation of Beech rendered it extremely popular - both the wild type and the early cultivars were planted extensively.
Its usefulness as a hedging plant won it a further contingent of horticultural fans and it remains a favoured species for this purpose. Indeed the world’s longest and tallest clipped hedge is a Beech hedge adjacent to a public road running past the Meikleour estate in Perthshire; it is 530 m long and averages 30 m in height (Rodger, Stokes, & Ogilvie 2006). Thought to have been planted in about 1745 it was traditionally cut once a decade but has sadly been neglected in recent years. An increasing number of new cultivars were introduced from the mid-19th century onward. New selections continue to appear and there is now an extensive range widespread in the horticultural trade which offer a great deal of choice in habit, form, ultimate size, and foliage colour and texture. The most prevalent of these are discussed below.
It seems unlikely that the typical Beech will again enjoy the same levels of popularity it experienced in Britain and Ireland during the 17th - 19th centuries, unless the problem of Grey Squirrels can be solved and foresters once again plant Beech on a landscape scale (Hemery & Simblet 2014). Nevertheless, it is important when planting the wild type to select an appropriate provenance or ecotype for the purpose. It may be tempting to acquire hedging stock of Beech and to plant these as trees given such material is cheap, but hedging selections will not always form good trees. Elwes (1906) commented that the quality of native Beech woods in southern Britain had declined enormously by the early 20th century due to the felling of the best stands for timber, and the failure to leave sufficient quality stands to provide a future seed-source for trees of good form.
The variability of form, which we are consequently having to consider in contemporary plantings, may be one reason that Beech avenues are so rarely planted now – this, along with the irksome problem that modern planners and developers rarely leave enough room for trees with such extensive root systems. But Beech was often planted as an avenue tree in the distant past and surviving examples of fine beech avenues include Drummond Castle, Perthshire, where the long and narrow drive is lined with high-pruned, very closely planted Beech, and at Kingston Lacy, Dorset, where 731 Beech trees were planted to frame a newly built road in 1835. More recently the ‘dark hedges’ – an avenue of irregularly shaped, low-branched and spreading Beech in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland – has become famous after being used as location in the series Game of Thrones.
The exact date of the Beech’s introduction to North America is uncertain. McMurtrie (1982) casts doubt on the assumption that it would have been introduced prior to the 19th century, while Jacobson (1996) suggests it was introduced in or before 1752, though he offers no reference for this information. Whatever the date of introduction, European Beech (as we will briefly refer to it in order to distinguish it from the American Beech) would later become a valued ornamental in north-east North America, playing “an important role in the 19th century landscape movement…which brought the English landscape into American suburbs, ‘rural cemeteries’ and city parks” (McMurtrie 1982).
Both the wild type and early cultivars (particularly purple-leaved, but also cut-leaf and pendulous forms) became widely planted in the north-east USA and adjacent parts of Canada – south of Maryland it becomes increasingly unsuitable, struggling with the more intense summer heat of southerly latitudes – and today it remains a common and important ornamental tree in this area. It is interesting, but quite logical, that European Beech was so favoured over the native American Beech, which has a reputation to this day of being far less amenable in cultivation, prone as it is to suckering, and which does not offer the same range of variations in foliage colour, form, and habit (Sternberg 2004, Elias 1980). European Beech is also grown on the west coast of North America, and in other parts of the continent where neither summer heat nor winter cold are prohibitively intense. Over 20 varieties were planted at the Dominion Arboretum, Ottawa, between 1890 and 1900, but by 1980 only ‘Asplenifolia’ survived as a large shrub, 4.5 m tall, after having been irregularly killed back, sometimes to ground level, by particularly hard winters (Buckley 1980).
Elsewhere, (European) Beech is cultivated as an ornamental in almost every appropriate climatic zone, for example in temperate South America, in New Zealand, and in appropriate zones within South Africa and Australia. In South Africa, mature Purple Beech growing in Arderne Gardens, Cape Town, were in 2016-2017 succumbing to the intense and prolonged drought affecting that region (ardernegardens.org.za) and indeed intense summer droughts have been known to kill older, already stressed trees even within its native range, as widely observed in southern England after the 1976 drought and in subsequent dry seasons. With hotter, drier summers becoming more frequent in the twenty-first century it may be that flourishing Beech may become confined to moister areas; Fagus orientalis may be a substitute for planting in droughtier places.
An introduction to the cultivars
In his authoritative Cultivars of Woody Plants Larry Hatch suggests there are already over 147 named clones of Fagus sylvatica (Hatch 2017). Some of these may be synonymous, of course, and other names will be duplicates or otherwise invalid, however, even taking these into account there are still a great many cultivars and some introductory remarks about this extensive group of plants are necessary.
Historically, different authors have described infraspecific taxa to cover naturally occurring variants that have since become popular in horticulture. For example, in 1855 Loudon described var. heterophylla to cover cut-leaved trees, and the rank of forma has been afforded to many variants: f. albovariegata for white-variegated forms; f. cochleata for forms with deformed leaves; f. laciniata for cut-leaf forms; f. pendula for the pendulous forms; f. purpurea for the purple and purple-variegated forms; f. tortuosa for those with stunted, contorted, or otherwise dwarf habit; f. quercoides to cover the entity with lobed (as opposed to cut) leaves. This list is not exhaustive.
In The World Checklist and Bibliography of Fagales all the various varieties and formae have been reduced to synonymy (Govaerts & Frodin 1998). In strictly botanical terms they are irrelevant, but they describe attributes that are of horticultural significance (and such names remain available for use if wished). An alternative is to establish Cultivar Groups but these require clarity of definition and are challenging where a cultivar combines more than one character of interest.
This same problem still rears its head in the use of the formae: if one were to apply the formae listed above, where then does one place the cultivar ‘Tortuosa Purpurea’? Does it belong within f. purpurea or f. tortuosa? Similarly, what of the beautiful Rohan series selections such as ‘Rohan Obelisk’; does this best fit in f. purpurea for its purple foliage, or in f. laciniata on account of its cut leaves? There are a great many more such examples.
Larry Hatch follows a compromise based on Bean’s own treatment: “We have adopted the classification of W.J. Bean who uses botanical forma for groups of wild-occurring variants, which includes the cutleaf, contorted, weeping and purple groups. Cultivars which belong to two or more groups (i.e. weeping and purple) are not assigned one of the formae names” (Hatch 2017).
It is clear that a robust classification system for Beech cultivars is desirable, but with so many new selections emerging, often representing new combinations of characters, there seems little likelihood of such a system emerging in the near future. Krüssman (1984) took a different approach from Bean – whilst he was comprehensive in his coverage of cultivars he made no attempt to classify them: he simply lists the named clones alphabetically and describes each one, a system adopted for Trees and Shrubs Online until such time as a robust classification is proposed.
Issues of synonymy within and between the cultivars is probably more widespread than is generally acknowledged. Cultivar synonymy within Fagus sylvatica is mostly a result of three principal factors: their classification (or lack thereof); their vernacular names; the multiple origins of so many similar forms.
From the issues outlined under ‘Classification’ it is clear there will be knock-on nomenclatural problems. In such instances we have consistently given priority to a well-established cultivar name over the use of infraspecific ranks. One prominent example of this is the Fern Leaf or Cut Leaf Beech, here treated as F. s. ‘Aspleniifolia’.
The various cut-leaved forms have in the past been treated under infraspecific entities of Fagus sylvatica including var. heterophylla Loudon (a name still widely used today) and f. laciniata (Perr.) Domin. Bean (1981) used f. laciniata, placed var. heterophylla into synonymy with it, and treated the widely grown ‘Aspleniifolia’ as an independent entity. The f. laciniata described by Bean is now generally treated as ‘Laciniata’ (indeed he makes this point himself) but such combinations as f. laciniata ‘Aspleniifolia’, and var. heterophylla ‘Asplenifolia’ are still sometimes encountered. In addressing this historic quagmire, it has been necessary to list var. heterophylla ‘Aspleniifolia’ as a synonym of ‘Aspleniifolia’, var. heterophylla (sensu lato) as a synonym of ‘Laciniata’, and f. laciniata is listed only as a synonym of ‘Laciniata’.
Vernacular names are another source of confusion, especially around Purple Beech and Copper Beech for variants with pigmented foliage. According to Bean these all fall under f. purpurea (still used by the Tree Register of Britain and Ireland, for example (Tree Register 2019) or the inappropriately-named Atropurpurea Group adopted by the Royal Horticultural Society. Both options cover all pigmented, entire-leaved Beech, although leaf coloration in this group varies from a sort of muddy-brown-red through to the deep and vibrant purples of such clones as ‘Riversii’.
Bean maintained the distinction and included the name ‘Cuprea’ for the Copper Beech “with leaves paler than in the true purple beech” under his discussion of f. purpurea (Bean 1981) and distinctly bronze or copper seedlings frequently occur where green and purple parents grow together, although it is not uncommon to find self-sown plants of good, vibrant purples, too. Nowadays the horticultural trade (at least in the UK) seems rarely to uphold the distinction and the vernacular names Purple and Copper Beech seem to be interchangeably applied to material sold under the names ‘Atropurpurea’, Atropurpurea Group, Purpurea Group, f. purpurea, var. purpurea, f. atropurpurea, etc. The name ‘Cuprea’ is rarely encountered.
We have listed both ‘Cuprea’ and ‘Purpurea’ in addition to many named purple clones, but as we have variously discussed under several of these names these clones are often very similar indeed with few, if any, truly reliable diagnostic characters. Selected cultivars will be grafted and should show evidence of the graft union, where seedlings will not, however when faced with an unlabelled purple beech with no supporting documentation it would be unwise to attempt to identify it too precisely: many of these names have been assigned to clones which – although they arose independently, often in different countries and at different times - are fundamentally the same thing from a horticultural point of view.
There is a case for placing all such names into synonymy within an overarching Purpurea Group, but this obscures history and could make it difficult to obtain the best clones, hence names such as such as ‘Riversii’, ‘Spaethiana’, ‘Tur’ etc. continue to be listed here.
Where other authorities, such as Hatch or Krüssmann, have suggested synonymy we have followed, hence ‘Purpurea Major’ appears as a synonym of ‘Riversii’, as does ‘Norwegiensis’. The treatment of these and many other names is likely to be intermittently refined over the years, but if there is a long history, or tradition, of referring to a purple beech as a named cultivar it is appropriate to retain that name, as each selection has its own history, and some of these old cultivars are at risk of disappearing completely if all are subsumed into the Purpurea Group.
Finally, a word about ‘Tortuosa’. This entry contains one of the greatest number of synonyms of any cultivar listed here. It is a highly variable entity and its expression is hugely influenced both by the style of propagation and its deployment in the garden or landscape. A top-grafted specimen will form a tree only a few meters tall, but with a very wide-spreading domed canopy, like the examples at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens which are illustrated here. A shoot of such a plant grafted low would, on the other hand, be more likely to form a very low growing mat, scarcely over a meter tall, but spreading out in the guise of a groundcover shrub. An extraordinary plethora of names have been assigned to cover the multitude of variation that exists within ‘Tortuosa’, but we have taken a very wide view of the application of this name and have placed the vast majority of ‘dwarf’ or otherwise contorted forms into synonymy, excusing only a handful of clones where there is a compelling case to do so.
A similarly pragmatic approach to many other groups of undeniably similar cultivars may well follow in due course.
Fagus sylvatica 'Albomarginata'
The leaves of this ultimately full-sized tree are margined white, but prone to reversion and not as stable as other variegated forms. There is confusion between this name and ‘Albomarginata’: several authors consider them synonymous, discussing one but not the other, for example Hillier & Coombes (2002) treat ‘Albomarginata’ as a synonym of ‘Albovariegata’, which they suggest has been cultivated since 1770. (Hatch 2017, Krüssmann 1984). Besides these two names, other names have been applied to white-variegated forms which may or may not differ in other characters, especially habit, for example ‘Franken’. All of these are distinct from the group of yellow-variegated forms including ‘Luteovariegata’ and ‘Bicolor Sartini’.
Fagus sylvatica 'Anniek'
This fastigiate form is similar to ‘Dawyck’ but possibly more strongly upright, at least when young, and its dead leaves are retained on the tree through winter. It is a recent introduction from Van Aart Boomkwekerijen nursery in the Netherlands who released it in October 2013 (planteria.eu). Currently it would seem to be most commonly grown in continental Europe. It is often listed as ‘Anniek’, but Van Aart Boomkwekerijen’s own website gives the correct spelling ‘Aniek’.
This slow-growing, shrubby selection is presumed to be a hybrid between a purple-leaved Beech and some form of cut-leaved Beech. The leaves are lanceolate, often with lobed but otherwise entire margins, 1-2 cm wide, dark brown-red to purple in colour. It was raised by Ansorge at the Flottbeck nurseries in Hamburg in 1891 (Krüssmann 1984, Bean 1981). Hillier & Coombes (2002) call this “a remarkable form” and describe the leaf colour as “dark purple”. A young tree of about 20 years of age at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens was c. 2.5 m tall in July 2019 (pers. obs.) but failing to make an impact in the landscape due to its relatively sparse branching. Pruning to encourage bushier growth and careful siting within a garden may help.
Fagus sylvatica var. heterophylla 'Aspleniifolia'
Often listed under var. heterophylla the true Fern-leaved Beech is quite distinctive. It is one of the cultivars that is generally full-sized in maturity and is a particularly beautiful form. Bean said “Of all the forms of Beech marked by differences in shape of leaf, this is the handsomest” (Bean 1981). It seems to have a reasonably traceable history as a clone, having first been offered by Loddige’s nursery in 1804 (Bean 1981), though possibly of continental origin.
The foliage is variable, the leaves distinctly lobed and incised, some lobes being relatively shallow and others penetrating the leaf blade almost to the midrib. Crucially, they are rarely symmetrical, and in this they differ from the very regular leaves of ‘Laciniata’. ‘Aspleniifolia’ also differs in having at least some leaves toward the tips of most branchlets nearly linear, sometimes to 10 x 0.6 cm, a feature almost never seen in ‘Laciniata’. Old trees are remarkably uniform in character and are likely to represent a single clone, or at least a very small number of remarkably similar clones. They tend to be slow growing when young but become more vigorous when properly established. Young shoots are usually slightly ascendant, and both in summer and winter this helps to mark ‘Aspleniifolia’ out from a distance, though in summer the narrow leaves give a tree a very soft appearance that makes it easily recognisable. As with many such selections reversion does occur from time to time, but usually on a small scale which can be easily managed (Hatch 2017, Krüssmann 1984).
‘Aspleniifolia’ would seem to be a particularly hardy clone. 20 different varieties of Beech were planted at the Dominion Arboretum in Ottawa, Canada, between 1890 and 1900, but by 1980 only a shrubby example of ‘Aspleniifolia’ remained (Buckley 1980).
This is a dwarf form of Beech, very slow growing, eventually becoming a densely branched rounded shrub. The photographs on the BlueBell nursery online catalogue (bluebellnursery.com) show only the small leaves with dentate-crenate margins, which at first glance are curiously similar to Nothofagus pumilio. Our use here of the common name ‘Dwarf Beech’ is intended to be indicative to the reader - it is not based on any comparable use elsewhere - and indeed there are other selections that fit this vernacular description equally well, for example ‘Mercedes’, and the plethora of forms treated here under the name ‘Tortuosa’, under which many names are listed as synonyms. ‘Asterix’ is being maintained as distinct on account of its leaves, which would seem to be consistently smaller than in ‘Tortuosa’.
Golden Weeping Beech
As the name suggests this is the yellow-leaved form of ‘Pendula’ – the Weeping Beech – though much slower growing and ultimately not as large as that form. The main trunk is usually erect, with branches either partly outspread or weeping. The young leaves are yellow or strongly yellow-green, becoming greener, but not entirely green, with age. If placed where it can be seen with the light behind it this is an exquisitely beautiful plant, glowing gold. It is susceptible to scorching in full-sun, but if placed in too-deep shade the yellow coloration is diluted and the plant appears more or less green. It arose as a bud sport in the nursery of J.G. van der Bom in the Netherlands in c. 1900. It remains relatively rare in cultivation, especially in North America where it wasn’t introduced until the 1950s. (Jacobson 1996, Krüssmann 1984, Bean 1981).
This selection has pale green leaves with yellow margins, and the upper most part of the leaf blade toward the apex is extensively blotched yellow also. The midrib and lateral veins are often accentuated by the same colouration. A striking foliage tree with a height x spread of up to 12 x 8 m (bluebellnursery.com). ‘Luteovariegata’ is similar in foliage. In trees so-labelled at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens ‘Bicolor Sartini’ has a richer yellow colouration and a more consistent pattern of variegation than ‘Luteovariegata’, and was a distinctly stronger grower than ‘Gold Edge’ (pers. obs.). Interestingly, Larry Hatch says this was raised at the Sartini nursery, Italy, as a sport of ‘Purpurea Tricolor’! He also suggests the variegation is duller than examples seen in the UK would suggest. (Hatch 2017).
Raised at Birr Castle in Ireland, this selection has leaves with green veins separated by yellow-green sections between the veins, giving a striped or ‘zebra’ effect. It was introduced to the trade in about 2001. Striped clones have been known since about 1850, when other named forms were introduced to the trade in Germany and in the modern-day Czech Republic, for example ‘Striata’. (Hatch 2018-2020).
A small, weeping tree with deep red-purple foliage. It is similar to ‘Purple Fountain’ but is described by Hillier & Coombes (2002) as more compact and with darker leaves of a better purple. Larry Hatch, on the other hand, suggests it is wider growing than ‘Purple Fountain’ adding that it can be a bit of an “ugly duckling” in youth but that it improves with age! (Hatch 2017).
This French selection makes a small tree with very pendulous branches, often reaching the ground forming a densely-leaved cone. The original tree grew in a garden near the church at Borny in France and is believed to have come from a neighbouring forest having been “discovered about 1870” (Krüssmann 1984). It was propagated and distributed by the firm Simon-Louis Frères at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In his original work Bean (1981) states that the largest example at Kew came from that firm in 1900, however the current TROBI champion is a 5 m tree, also at Kew, with a given planting date of 1897 – perhaps a separate tree to the one Bean discussed. Jacobson (1996) says it has been cultivated in North America since at least 1895 but points out that it is probably regularly mis-sold as ‘Pendula’, and distinction from young trees of that name may be difficult.
Purple Cock's Comb Beech
Our invented common name for this selection describes it perfectly: a purple-leaved form of the Cock’s Comb Beech (F. sylvatica ‘Cristata’). It was first spotted growing in the grounds of Brathay Parish Church, near Ambleside in Cumbria, in 1996. A sample was sent to the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens for identification at this time and then arrangements were made for further material to be sent for propagation by Bömer, in the Netherlands, resulting in the first wave of new plants entering cultivation in the UK in 2003. A tree from this original batch was planted at Hilliers in 2003 and is now 5 m tall. (A. Coombes, pers. comm. 2019).
The original tree was last recorded “hidden behind the hedge SW of the church and growing slowly in deep shade” where it was 7 m (14 cm dbh) in 2013 (Tree Register 2019). The BlueBell nursery’s online catalogue describes it as “unusual and sought after…the leaf colour is at its most vivid if planted in a sunny position” (bluebellnursery.com). When seen in late July 2019 the tree at Hilliers was rather lanky and failed to commend itself as a garden-worthy plant, but this may be due to its position close against other woody plants which may have forced it up.
Described by Hatch (2017) as being like a denser, slower-growing, semi-dwarf form of ‘Dawyck’, reaching only 2 m in 10 years. It originated in the Netherlands.
Citing Loudon, Bean (1981) states that this clone was in the trade in Britain before 1842. Krüssmann, from his perspective, states it has been known in Germany since 1864, but neither author dwells on its origins (Krüssmann 1984). It may be that the clone arose in Britain and was later exported to continental Europe. Bean describes it as having “Leaves concave beneath, broadest above the middle tapering to an acute base; margins with small, pointed, slightly toothed lobules, best developed near the apex”. Krüssmann offers “Dwarf form, compact conical habit, slow grower, scarcely over 4-5 m high and 3 m wide; leaves elliptic, 3-4 cm long, deeply toothed, margins usually undulate, blade often somewhat plaited”. (Krüssmann 1984, Bean 1981).
TROBI lists a specimen, 12 m tall in 2017, growing in the cemetery in Ramsgate, Kent. Owen Johnson’s note reads “Crimped dense habit like ‘Aspleniifolia’; small much folded leaves, some with big teeth near the tip. No visible graft; perhaps a sport?” (Tree Register 2019). This is closer to Bean’s description.
Named for the marine mollusc which could have modelled for this clone’s leaves, it was discovered in the Hillier nurseries in 1960. It has since been extensively propagated and has become relatively well-known. Krüssmann (1984) describes it as “Columnar with smaller more rounded leaves than rotundifolia”. While it may be ‘columnar’ in youth, as Krüssmann would have seen it when writing in the early 1980s, we have since seen older trees become more spreading, but its peculiar foliage of cockle-shell shaped leaves have won it numerous fans. It is most readily distinguished from ‘Rotundifolia’, which is undeniably similar, by its smaller leaves with fewer lateral veins (usually only 2 pairs). Thus far it would seem to be on its way to making a full-size tree, albeit much slower-growing than the type: the largest example known in the UK and Ireland is a 17 m (0.45 m dbh) tree growing in the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, accession 1977.4298*S; another also planted in 1977 at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, was by 2012 only 9 m (0.3 m dbh) (Tree Register 2019).
Both Krüssmann (1984) and Hillier & Coombes (2002) suggest this clone is like a miniature ‘Aspleniifolia’ with a much greater proportion of linear-lanceolate leaves, but the one tree seen in preparation for this account - at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens - has a ‘normal’ proportion of such leaves, and indeed in the upper half of its crown appeared to have fewer such leaves than in the lower half. This tree, of c. 35 years of age, was broadly upright in profile and c. 9 m tall when seen in late July 2019. Larry Hatch suggests it may be better to consider ‘Comptonifolia’ a very slow-growing form of ‘Aspleniifolia’, rather than a dwarf form (Hatch 2017).
Cock's Comb Beech
Fagus sylvatica 'Conglomerata'
Fagus sylvatica 'Crispa'
Fagus sylvatica 'Cucullata'
Fagus sylvatica 'Monstruosa'
A fast-growing tree, in commerce in Britain since 1836 where examples approaching 30 m tall are known. Very shortly-stalked leaves usually clustered at the branch tips, coarsely triangular-toothed, crumpled, and decurved at the apex (Bean 1981). “Usually cockscomb like, incised and deformed” (Krüssmann 1984). It isn’t for everyone: Hatch (2017) calls it “frightfully ugly” and many would agree. Jacobson (1996) suggests it has been in commerce in North America since before 1903, but that it remains very rare there. He also lists several synonyms which are given here. There is a muddy-purple-leaved form called ‘Brathay Purple’.
This well known and widely grown selection is named for the Scottish estate where it was first found. Since the late 17th century Dawyck (Daw as in Dawson, yck as in wick) has been one of the great arboreta of the UK and Ireland, benefitting from the passionate dendrological interest of three different families, before passing to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1978.
The Dawyck Beech has much in common with the Irish Yew (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’). Both were discovered in woods, or in consignments of saplings destined for woods. Both are remarkable for their strongly fastigiate habit, at least when young. Both were discovered by a keen-eyed forester, both were liberated from their woodland fate and brought down to the ‘big house’ where they were planted in a more ornamental setting, and both have since become ubiquitous in ornamental horticulture throughout the temperate zones of the world. The ‘discovery’ is believed to have taken place in the early 19th century, when Dawyck was owned by the Nasmyth family. The original tree still stands to the rear of the main house (still in private ownership) on the boundary with the Botanic Garden.
According to Bean it wasn’t until the early 20th century, after the property had passed into the ownership of the Balfour family, that scion material was distributed to other major collections in c. 1907. One recipient of material was a Herr Hesse of Weener, Hannover “and it was he who first described the Dawyck beech in 1912 and his firm that first distributed it commercially” (Bean 1981). It quickly became widespread, being introduced to North America by the 1930s (Jacobson 1996) and to other temperate zones over the following years.
As a young tree ‘Dawyck’ is narrowly upright, and although it broadens slightly with age, it generally retains its distinctive conical-columnar profile. Mature trees may attain c. 30 m height with a canopy spread of only a few meters. There is, inevitably, some confusion between ‘Dawyck’ and another earlier fastigiate clone, ‘Fastigiata’. It would appear that ‘Fastigiata’, possibly never widely grown anyway, fell into obscurity after ‘Dawyck’ was introduced to the trade. Whether this is because ‘Dawyck’ was a superior clone, or simply because it enjoyed better marketing, is not known. Most authors now consider ‘Fastigiata’ a synonym of ‘Dawyck’, although it arose independently in Germany in about 1864 (a date that Krüssmann erroneously assigns to ‘Dawyck’). The French firm Simon-Louis Frères were propagating ‘Fastigiata’ in 1873, but Krüssmann speculated over 100 years later that it was no longer in cultivation (Krüssmann 1984).
More recently, several other fastigiate Beeches have been introduced to the trade, notably F. sylvatica ‘Aniek’ and F. orientalis ‘Iskander’. While it is too early to take a long-term view of their merits early indications are that ‘Iskander’ is more heat-tolerant than ‘Dawyck’, which may prove a useful trait in the future. Additionally F. sylvatica ‘Callista’ has been described as a dwarf form of ‘Dawyck’, and ‘Dawyck’ itself has been used in the creation of new hybrids, for example ‘Rohan Obelisk’.
Golden Dawyck Beech
The golden Dawyck Beech was raised by Dick Van Hoey Smith in Holland in 1968, by crossing ‘Dawyck’ with the pollen of ‘Zlatia’. Young foliage is distinctly yellow, gradually maturing to yellow-green or very bright green (Krüssmann 1984). Jacobson (1996) says it is tolerant of full sun.
Purple Dawyck Beech
The Purple Dawyck Beech was again raised by Dick Van Hoey Smith, at the same time as he bred ‘Dawyck Gold’. This time the pollen parent was a purple beech, though whether it was a named clone of such is not known (Krüssmann 1984). Hatch (2017) suggests that ‘Rohan Obelisk’ may have better purple coloration for an upright, purple-leaved form.
Doubtfully distinctive within the overarching ‘Atropurpurea’ group, but described as slower growing than many purple-leaved forms, and holding its colour well through the growing season (Hatch 2017).
‘Felderbach’ is a clone that is clearly distinct from the many semi-dwarf forms treated under ‘Tortuosa’: it differs in its narrow, shrubby growth habit and in its very small leaves which might be only 25% as large as the typical species. It is slow growing and compact and would be at home in a rock garden or even a large container (bluebellnursery.com). The Dutch firm Plantentuin Esveld give a height of 3 m after 10 years and their illustrations show older trees with a narrow habit (esveld.nl).
Based on the sole specimen seen at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in late July 2019, ‘Flagellaris’ might best be described as a loosely fastigiate form of ‘Latifolia’ or ‘Prince George of Crete’: It has very large leaves as in those two cultivars, but while clearly upright, it doesn’t have the strongly fastigiate form of cultivars such as ‘Dawyck’ or ‘Rohan Obelisk’. Larry Hatch suggests it might be an illegitimate cultivar name if it proves to have been published since 1959 (Hatch 2017).
Larry Hatch praises ‘Franken’ as “among the best, most stable, and richly marked variegates in the genus”. The BlueBell nursery catalogue states “Young plants have green foliage lightly flecked with white markings. As the plant establishes the foliage becomes fantastically white variegated, with the leaves in spring sometimes being pure white with tiny flecks of green. As summer progresses the green becomes more evident” (bluebellnursery.com). It arose as a seedling of ‘Marmorata’ and was selected by G. Donig of Erlangen, Germany, in 1993 (Hatch 2017).
Another gold/yellow-variegated form, similar at least in its foliage to ‘Bicolor Sartini’ and ‘Luteovariegata’. As noted under the entry for ‘Luteovariegata’, that name, either as a cultivar group or as a forma, is the correct catch-all name for the yellow (or gold) variegated Beeches to which ‘Gold Edge’ clearly belongs.
‘Gold Edge’ would seem to be most similar to ‘Bicolor Sartini’ in the richness of its yellow colouration, however, based on two trees growing at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, ‘Bicolor Sartini’ would seem to be the superior clone. Examples of both were planted at the gardens in the late 2000s, but by 2019 ‘Bicolor Sartini’ was more than double the size of ‘Gold Edge’, which seemed altogether lacklustre in comparison (pers. obs.).
Bean referred to a cultivar named ‘Paul’s Gold-margined’ which received an Award of Merit from the RHS in 1902 (Bean 1981) but no further detail about this clone could be found.
Fagus sylvatica 'Circinata'
The leaves of this cultivar are broadly elliptic, somewhat concave, with regularly dentate, coarse margins with angular teeth. It is more shallowly lobed than ‘Lacinata’ and Hatch (2017) suggests it is “not a popular cultivar for it does not stand out much”. Indeed his illustration proves his point. It was discovered in Germany in c. 1810. Bean suspected it to be a branch sport of ‘Aspleniifolia’ although ‘Lacinata’ is another possiblity (Krüssmann 1984).
Hatch suggests this clone was raised at the Arboretum Trompenburg in 1997 but gives no further details (Hatch 2018-2020). Illustrations online give the impression of a green-leaved ‘Rohan Obelisk’, slender and narrowly upright, with a pleasing contrast between the lighter coloured young foliage, and the darker, more mature leaves (bluebellnursery.com).
Found in Oudenbosch in the Nerherlands in 1981 ‘Greenwood’ is an upright tree whose ultimate stature is yet unknown. Its leaves are small (c. 4 cm) with somewhat incurved margins; the leaf edges are pale on emergence, but have become normal green by midsummer (van den Berk 2002). Hatch (2017) describes this clone as being ‘lighter’ with a more open habit, not casting such dense shade as the type, and therefore appropriate as a lawn specimen, for example.
Fagus sylvatica f. laciniata (Pers.) Domin F.
Fagus sylvatica var. laciniata Vignet ex Pers.
Fagus sylvatica 'Incisa'
Fagus sylvatica var. heterophylla Loud., in part
A strong growing clone which, like ‘Asplenifolia’, can make as large a tree as the species. Krüssmann (1984) says the leaves are “quite variable, usually broad-lanceolate, long acuminate, pinnately divided, among these are some normal leaves, which are also lanceolate” however this is at odds with e.g. Hatch (2017) who suggests that the true ‘Lacinata’ has “regularly incised or lobed [leaves], less deeply cut than ‘Asplenifolia’ (less than 1/3 to 1/2 as deep), rarely with linear-leaved shoots”, and such filiage is illustrated by Van den Berk (2002).Certainly Hatch’s photographs illustrate his point, and once the two foliage types can be seen together the distinction becomes clear. According to Hatch this clone has been known since as early as c. 1792 following its discovery in a hedgerow on the Tetschen estate in Saxony, though nowhere is it so commonly grown as ‘Asplenifolia’. There are some particularly similar selections, notably ‘Quercifolia’, which should continue to be considered distinct at least until it is better understood.
Fagus sylvatica f. latifolia Kirchn.
Fagus sylvatica var. marcophylla Dippel
This is another name that is often used as a cultivar group. The original clone was discovered in Germany in c. 1864 and is thought to be derived from F. x taurica, the hybrid between European and Oriental Beech. It is remarkable for its very large leaves, which may be up to 15 x 9-12 cm. Even when they do not exceed the typical length for the species, they are always wider. The clone named ‘Prince George of Crete’ is similar in having larger leaves than the type (Bean gives an even greater length of leaf in plants so labelled at Kew) and some catalogues place this under f. latifolia or the Latifolia Group. (Hatch 2017, Krüssmann 1984, Bean 1981). It would seem to be relatively rare in cultivation, compared to other named forms.
Fagus sylvatica 'Aurea Variegata'
Fagus sylvatica f. luteo-variegata (West.) Domin.
There would seem to be some confusion between this and the name ‘Aureovariegata’. Bean described this form under the name ‘Aurea Variegata’ and included in that entry mention of a gold-margined Beech in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, which was being called Fagus sylvatica foliis aureis, which he thought “may be the same as ‘Paul’s Gold-margined’, which recived an Award of Merit in 1902”. His description simply reads “Leaves margined with golden yellow” and he points out that “The name for gold-variegated beeches in general is F. s. f. luteo-variegata (West.) Domin.” (Bean 1981) so we have adopted that cultivar name in preference to ‘Aureovareigata’.
Hatch follows suit and suggests ‘Aurea Variegata’ is a specific clone within f. luteo-variegata (a classification we are not following here) describing it as more vigorous than the white-variegated ‘Albovariegata’, with leaves “margined, mottled, or sectored yellow. Mostly margined. It also has some secros into the main green center”. He suggests it arose in cutlivation in England in c. 1770 (Hatch 2017).
Hatch’s description would seem to closely match that of ‘Bicolor Sartini’, but based on living plants seen at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in the summer of 2019, that cultivar has richer yellow colouration and a more consistent pattern of variegation. Additionally, although in many respects it represents the same varieation, ‘Bicolor Sartini’ has a traceable history to the Italian nursery which raised it as a sport of ‘Purpurea Tricolor’ in 1995 (Hatch 2017).
Variegation within Fagus sylvatica takes many forms: it may be only the margin that is variegated; the variegtation may be more widespread, concentrated in the upper half of the leaf blade around an extensive blotch of ‘normal’ green in the basal half; or the entire blade may be variegated, as is the case with ‘Marmor Star’. In this clone the entire leaf is mottled cream, lacking a pinkish tinge common in the otherwise similar ‘Franken’. This clone arose as a seedling of ‘Marmorata’ in Germany in 1992 and has been described by Larry Hatch as “a true breakthrough in variegated cultivars, given a high chimera and a breathtaking pattern” (Hatch 2017). ‘Marmorata’ is not so boldly variegated as this clone, and ‘Franken’ would seem to sit between the two in this character. In all three, though, the leaves soon become more or less entirely green with the strongest variegation restricted to the youngest shoots.
‘Marmorata’ arose in Germany in about 1903. Leaves on young shoots are lightly mottled cream-white, though not as extensively in ‘Marmor Star’ or ‘Franken’. In all three of these cultivars the strongest variegation is to be found on the youngest shoots: leaves on older wood soon become more or less entirely green. (Hatch 2017).
A slow-growing, semi-dwarf form which will ultimately reach only a few meters tall. It is a dense shrub with lanceolate foliage, often with lightly cut or lobed margins, like the strongly linear leaves that appear at the tips of young shoots in ‘Aspleniifolia’ (Hatch 2017). Some authors and catalogues suggest an ultimate height of only 1.5 m, but there is a 4 m tall tree in a private garden in West Sussex which was planted in 1994 (Tree Register 2019). ‘Ansorgei’ is similar in habit and leaf shape, but that selection has purple rather than green leaves and tends to be of more lanky growth.
Strictly speaking this clone belongs to the ‘Pendula Group’ of cultivars. In his discussion of forma pendula (see under ‘Pendula’ below) Bean provides an overview of three of the several forms of Weeping Beech, and ‘Miltonensis’ would seem to belong to his second informal group: “also known as F. s. pendula, which is perhaps commoner on the continent than here. It is quite distinct from the tent-like clone, being slender in habit with the main branches pendent. This seems to be the F. s. pendula of Kirchner, of which there were already old trees in Germany when he described it in 1864” (Bean 1981).
‘Miltonensis’ sensu stricto was discovered in Milton Park, Northamptonshire, UK, in or before 1837, but was not introduced to the trade until about 1899 (Hatch 2017). As Jacobson (1996) speculates and as Bean (1981) testifies, several ‘imposters’ have been sold under this name over the years, but the original tree certainly adheres to the Bean description given above. Bean treats this clone as distinct from ‘Pendula’ presumably on account of how exaggeratedly pendulous it is, but points out that material distributed under this name from German nurseries in the 1860s was incorrect. We may assume that the introduction of incorrectly named clones both within Europe and to North America has blurred the picture, but thanks to well documented descriptions, it ought to be relatively straightforward to identify at least some of the imposters.
Fagus sylvatica f. pendula (Loud.) Schelle
Fagus sylvatica var. pendula Lodd. ex Loud.
As with the Purple-leaved Beeches there are several forms of so-called Weeping Beech which are circulating under the same name(s). The use of a cultivar name often implies the involvement of a clone, but of course this is not always the case, and here it serves to justify a broader means of categorising the Weeping Beeches under a name such as ‘Pendula Group’ or forma pendula. As was explained in the main article under the heading ‘an introduction to the cultivars’, no attempt will be made here to categorise and rationalise these groups, nor will we speculate as to how they should best be defined, but in discussing ‘Pendula’ sensu lato we must acknowledge and untangle some historic threads.
Bean (1981) distinguishes three distinct “types” of Weeping Beech (though he acknowledges there are others) discussing them all under the name f. pendula (Loud.) Schelle. His first: “the one best known under the name pendula is not a high tree, but sends out its great arms in a horizontal or drooping direction; from these the smaller branches descend almost vertically, the whole making a tent-like mass”.
Second: “also known as F. s. pendula, which is perhaps commoner on the continent than here. It is quite distinct from the tent-like clone, being slender in habit with the main branches pendent. This seems to be the F. s. pendula of Kirchner, of which there were already old trees in Germany when he described it in 1864”.
And third: “In addition there is the famous weeping beech at the Knap Hill nurseries, which is believed to have come from France in 1826. This tree, which has formed a small copse by self-layering, is certainly not the same as our tent-like pendula, but it is hard to judge its true character”. Owen Johnson (2015) says of this tree that it has’ constructed out of itself a whole Albert Hall of soaring, twisting and tumbling stems, 60 m wide.’
In outlining these Bean does not rule out the existence of others, nor indeed intermediates, and several allegedly distinct clones are clearly applicable to one of his ‘forms’. For example ‘Miltonensis’, which Bean himself treated separately, is obviously comparable to the second type, as is ‘Aurea Pendula’, while ‘Pendula Purpurea’ better matches the first.
Upward of two hundred years of propagation and distribution, of different forms sometimes under different names, has clearly muddied the waters considerably, and it would be foolish to attempt to categorise the Weeping Beeches too precisely. Suffice to say that in selecting material grown under the catch-all name ‘Pendula’ (or f. pendula, etc.) for the garden or landscape, care should be taken to select plants of known origin so that their future appearance can be taken into account, unless the person responsible is willing to throw caution to the wind and simply wait and see what they end up with. If a more precise form is desired, then it would be better to select (from a trusted source!) a young tree of known origin so that the form of the parent can be assessed.
Some more recent authors follow Bean’s description for ‘Pendula’ sensu stricto (the first of his ‘forms’ as described above): “Growth slow when young, main branches more or less horizontal or curved upward, side branches usually hanging vertically” (Krüssmann 1985). Others such as Hillier & Coombes (2002) acknowledge it is “[a] tree taking on various forms”. Jacobson recognises “Two general categories…The mushroom form tends to be squat and broad…The fountain form is narrow and can be very tall” (Jacobson 1996).
In its various forms ‘Pendula’ is a popular selection and has been extensively planted over the past 200 years, if not more. It was introduced to North America before 1834, when a specimen is known to have been planted at Newton, Massachusetts (Jacobson 1996) however Krussman (1984) suggests it wasn’t discovered until 1836 – a rare error. Certainly it has been planted in all manner of situations in Britain, for example as a specimen tree in lawns, arboreta and so on - as at Endcliffe Park in Sheffield, where there is a remarkable specimen only 10 m tall but with a spread of 27 m; as a specimen tree in woodland gardens and shrubberies – as at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, where there is a remarkable specimen in excess of 22 m height; and sporadically on the edges of amenity woodland within designed landscapes as a foil to the ‘type’ – as on the southern edge of Ray Wood at Castle Howard, North Yorkshire. According to Johnson (2015) ‘Weeping Beeches are best admired in the winter, when their grey streamers are like a crystallised deluge.’
A Weeping Beech planted by the American landscape architect Samuel Parsons Sr. on his New York nursery, later a public park named ‘Weeping Beech Park’, “became an American arboreal icon” (Kowsky in Parsons 2009) and doubtless gave rise to a multitude of Weeping Beeches in North America before its sad demise in 1999, aged 152 years. At the time it was one of only two trees registered as New York City landmarks, and before it was removed the City Parks Commissioner held a ‘funeral’ for the tree, in December 1998 (Wikipedia 2018).
This large-leaved clone arose in Denmark in the late 19th century. Bean notes that material so-named was sent to Kew by the King of Denmark’s gardener in 1898 and when young these trees had leaves that could reach 18 x 14 cm, but were typically smaller “but still strikingly large” when older (Bean 1981). Its affinities to ‘Latifolia’ (f. latifolia) and F. x taurica have been the source of some debate, indeed Krüssmann makes no mention of this Danish clone, which would seem to more or less fit within the parameters of his ‘Latifolia’ description (Krüssmann 1984). A tree labelled as ‘Prince George of Crete’ at the Savill Garden, Windsor, was fruiting heavily in June 2019 and these fruits were entirely typical of F. sylvatica (pers. obs.).
This clone arose as a seedling of ‘Purpurea Pendula’ in Holland in the latter half of the 20th century and was first distributed by the Grootendoorst nursery in 1975. It differs from its parent in having a narrower and more upright habit, with an ascendant leader and pendulous secondary branches. It is not considered to have such a good ‘purple’ colour as its parent (Jacobson 1996, Krüssmann 1984).
Fagus sylvatica 'Atropunicea'
Fagus sylvatica 'Atropurpurea'
Fagus sylvatica f. atropurpurea Kirchn.
Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea (Ait.) Schneid
Fagus sylvatica var. purpurea Ait.
This name covers all ‘purple’ leaved forms which do not otherwise differ significantly from the type. The colouration of the foliage varies enormously, and in spring to early summer when the leaves are emerging they can be a rich, translucent red. Few if any clones retain this vivid early colour but darken throughout the season, becoming almost black in some cases, after travelling through some part of the Beech’s peculiar green-brown-red-purple-black colour spectrum. The names ‘Purpurea’ and ‘Atropurpurea’ are often used as cultivar groups, to bring together copper and purple-leaved Beech with otherwise typical foliage, and some widely used publications such as the RHS Plant Finder follow this treatment, placing distinct named clones such as ‘Purpurea Pendula’, ‘Riversii’, and ‘Swat Magret’ within whicever of these groups they choose to use. We have chosen to use ‘Purpurea’ in preference over ‘Atropurpurea’ as many selections have been given names incorporating ‘Purpurea’, for example ‘Tortuosa Purpurea’, hence we feel it is more consistent to use ‘Purpurea’ as the overarching name for ‘generic’ Purple Beeches.
In his lengthy but useful discussion of the purple-leaved Beeches Bean, using the catch-all name forma purpurea (Ait.) Schneid., explains that this colouration is not a mutation that occurred in cultivation, but was first observed in wild populations in central Europe in at least three different locations: “in the Hanleiter Forest, near Sonderhausen, in Thuringia; in the Darney Forest in the Vosges; and in the village of Buchs, in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland. The last is the oldest recorded site of the purple beech, three trees there being mentioned in a work dated 1680. They were the survivors of a group originally of five, which, according to legend, had sprung up on the spot where five brothers had killed each other” (Bean 1981). It was from these regions that Purple Beech would enter cultivation, eventually spreading over the following centuries to almost every appropriate climatic zone in the world. The legend around the five trees that originally grew near Buchs may be the origin of the vernacular name in some parts of northern Europe which translates as ‘blood beech’.
The British dendrologist Alan Mitchell famously hated the ‘common’ purple-leaved and copper Beeches. He was vitriolic toward them, barely stopping short of accusing them of sucking the light out of the sky (Mitchell 1996). But even the most revered expert must be prepared to meet with dissent, and although Mitchell cannot defend his opinion from beyond the grave, it is high time that Purple Beeches were championed again! Used well (and that is the crux of it) Purple Beeches can be the most magnificent landscape trees. In Europe, after the towering evergreen silhouettes of conifers, few trees can mark out a designed landscape from a distance as effectively as Purple Beech. Placed where their foliage can be seen against the sky they offer a fascinating display as their leaves travel along the colour spectrum from translucent wine-red, through the deep purple-browns, before changing again with autumn in shades of brown-copper-orange. Even in the absence of a blue-sky backdrop, their colour can help to break up a tree-scape, providing often much needed contrast and definition.
They can work particularly well as an isolated specimen tree, such as in a lawn, on the edge of a lawn or woodland, or in proximity to a building. They are effective in association with conifers such as Pseudotsuga menziesii, Tsuga heterophylla, Abies alba, Sequoia and Sequoiadendron, set off by the inclusion of other ‘green’ broadleaves such as the common Beech, Quercus robur and Acer pseudoplatanus. Such combinations can often be found in proximity to smaller Scottish country houses. At Ballathie, near Perth, there is an extraordinary avenue of Purple Beech interplanted in staggered rows with Pseudotsuga menzesii, an unlikely but very effective combination. Nearby, on the Stormontfield road just north of Perth Racecourse, is an avenue planted purely of Purple Beech in the 1840s – a most striking feature in the landscape and one which, it must be said, perhaps ought not to be replicated too often.
At Dawyck Botanic Garden in Peeblesshire a line of Purple Beech was planted in error in 2011, to replace a historic line of green Beech that had to be felled due to safety concerns. The new trees were bought in during the autumn, and despite strenuous assurances being sought and received of the nursery by the team at Dawyck that these were ordinary green Beech, they naturally leafed out several months later as Purple Beech! Happily they have been retained, though not before considerable debate and deliberation.
In North America Purple Beech became a widely planted and important ornamental tree from the mid-19th century onward, and they remain so today, perhaps nowhere more so than in the New England region. South of here they perform increasingly poorly, although they are grown in other parts of the North American continent where the climate is appropriate, for example on the west coast. In his introduction to the Beeches Hatch (2017) calls for breeders to work on developing a Purple Beech that can cope with the intense summer heat of the southern states: “A really bold Purple Beech for the southern US would be a great accomplishment”.
A purple-leaved form of ‘Pendula’, neither growing as large as that cultivar nor matching its vigour, but nevertheless capable of growing into a striking small tree (Bean speculated that the name should be appended with the word ‘nana’). In the UK and Ireland the tallest example known is only 5 m tall, growing in the grounds of Bristol Zoo (Tree Register 2019). It is often top-grafted to form a mushroom-headed tree. Introduced c. 1865. (Hillier & Coombes 2002).
Variegated Purple Beech
Fagus sylvatica 'Roseomarginata'
A somewhat variable clone with carmine-red coloured young foliage deepening to purple after several weeks. In some instances trees seem to hold this purple colour reasonably well, while in others it reportedly fades over the course of the growing season to bronze-green, but always with a distinct, often wide, pink or pale-pink margin to the leaf blades. Krussman’s suggestion that it “only occasionally [grows] to 10 m high” would seem to be erroneous: Jacobson (1996) refers to an individual c. 30 m tall growing at Balaine, near Villeneuve sur Allier, France, in 1973, and another of c. 27 m tall growing at Port Coquitlam, British Colombia, in 1994. The Tree Register of Britain and Ireland records the tallest currently known in this area as a 29.5 m tree (when last measured in 2016) growing at Stourhead, Wiltshire, and various others exceeding 20 m height across Britain (Tree Register 2019).
Its exact origins are something of a mystery, as it seems to have arisen “almost simultaneously in France and Holland, and to have been first propagated in quantity by Transon’s nursery, Orleans, who first exhibited it in 1885” (Bean 1981). Bean adds that “A similar or perhaps identical beech was exhibited by Messrs Cripps in 1888 as F. s. roseomarginata”, while Jacobson (1996) suggests it originated “in 1880 in Germany”. He adds that it was introduced to commerce in North America no later than 1891 where it is still common.
A form with small, shallowly lobed and often faintly toothed leaves. Like in some other cultivars, particularly ‘Cochleata’, the growth tends to be of congested appearance.
Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Major'
Fagus sylvatica 'Atropurpurea Macrophylla'
Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Latifolia'
The Rivers nursery listed a very fine clone of Purple Beech in their catalogues in the 1870s. They did not name it themselves but the horticultural trade soon came to refer to this clone, known for its particularly rich colouring, as ‘Riversii’ (Bean 1981). It remains popular today, and received an RHS Award of Garden Merit in 2002. Like most purple-leaved forms, the young leaves appear wine-red when young before darkening to a very rich, deep purple. It has larger leaves than the type (hence synonymy regularly including ‘Purpurea Major’ and ‘Purpurea Latifolia’) but its autumn colour is lacklustre. Krüussmann said it was “one of the best large leaved, Purple Beech cultivars available today”. He also maintained ‘Purpurea Latifolia’ as a distinct clone and suggested that American and Dutch nurseries were selling this as ‘Riversii’, but he admitted that “the distinguishing characteristics are so few on young trees as to make positive identification nearly impossible” (Krüssmann 1984).
Jacobson, presumably referring to the ‘true’ ‘Riversii’, says it was introduced to North American horticulture no later than 1907, and that it remains the most commonly grown purple Beech there today (Jacobson 1996).
One of several hybrids raised in Holland by Dick Van Hoey Smith by crossing ‘Rohanii’ with other selections of Fagus sylvatica. In this case ‘Rohanii’ was the seed parent, ‘Zlatia’ the pollen parent, the seed batch in question produced in 1968. The exact date of introduction to commerce seems not to be recorded, but it was in North American commerce by 1988 (Jacobson 1996) and the largest example known in the UK is a 20 m tree at Bradenham Hall, Norfolk, that was planted (as Carpinus betulus ‘Incisa’!) in 1980. The young leaves are yellow or yellow-green, otherwise incised and lobed as in ‘Rohanii’.
Fagus sylvatica 'Red Obelisk'
Fagus sylvatica 'Obelisk'
Another Dick van Hoey Smith hybrid, raised in Holland by crossing ‘Rohanii’ with ‘Dawyck’ (the latter being the seed-parent) (Jacobson 1996). The result is a fastigiate Beech, with green-purple coloured leaves, with gently undulating blades and with incised and lobed margins. Hatch (2017) is one of several authors to suggest this may have better coloration than ‘Dawyck Purple’, but after comparing the two clones at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in late July 2019 it became impossible to support such an opinion, but it may be that the strength of coloration is affected by age, and other factors such as the local environment.
There is a possiblity of course that ‘Rohanii’ was also crossed with ‘Dawyck Purple’, which would give a much more vibrant purple coloration than a cross with the ordinary, green ‘Dawyck’. A plant labelled ‘Red Obelisk’ growing in the national collection at Highgrove, Gloucestershire, certainly has better colour than the tree labelled ‘Rohan Obelisk’ at Hilliers, and may represent a different cross, hence ‘Red Obelisk’ may in fact be distinct, and not synonymous with ‘Rohan Obelisk’ as some authors have suggested, but further research is needed here.
The tallest known in the UK and Ireland is an 11.5 m tree at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, planted in 1989 (Tree Register 2019) shortly after the clone was introduced to commerce both in Europe and North America.
This clone arose as a seedling of ‘Rohanii’, back-crossed with a purple beech, at Trompenburg, Holland, in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Both Hillier & Coombes (2002) and Jacobson (1996) suggest it is superior to ‘Rohanii’, with Jacobson adding that it is “…much more easily grafted, and grows better. An improvement that should eclipse the original”. Despite these assertions, the original ‘Rohanii’ remains more widely available than ‘Rohan Trompenburg’ in the UK in 2018 (Cubey (ed) 2018) and only a single example of the latter is recorded on the publicly accessible database of the Tree Register of Britain and Ireland (Tree Register 2019).
Except to say that ‘Rohan Trompenburg’ has a richer purple colouration than ‘Rohanii’, key reference works stop short of offering practical advice on how these two obviously very close clones can be distinguished. Given our knowledge of both of them, it is fair to assume that ‘Rohan Trompenburg’ will have the aforementioned richer purple colouration, will exhibit greater vigour, and might have less regularly incised and lobed leaves than in ‘Rohanii’, but as in many other similar cases it would be useful to see verified examples side by side in order to fully appreciate the likely subtle differences.
Krüssmann (1984) records that this purple, cut-leaf clone arose “in 1894 [Bean gives 1888] as a cross between a purple beech x ‘Quercifolia’ [syn. ‘Laciniata’]” made by the garden superintendent V. Mašek on the estate of Prince Camille de Rohan of Sichrow in Bohemia. After the Prince’s death Mašek set up his own nursery in nearby Turnau, and his son introduced the new cross to commercial horticulture in 1898. The combination of the cut leaf of the ‘Laciniata’ parent and the purple colouration is very effective and indeed ‘Rohanii’ is capable of forming a tree of singular beauty, although according to Bean it wasn’t all that popular at first, and as commentators such as Jacobson (1996) point out, it is likely to be eclipsed by other members of the ‘Rohan series’ of cultivars that have been bred in recent decades.
Nevertheless it can be deployed very effectively in gardens in the company of flowering shrubs and small trees, such as Deutzia, Philadelphus, Styrax, selections of Acer palmatum, and smaller growing conifers, as it has been in Glyn and Gail Church’s garden near New Plymouth in New Zealand. Although we are yet to see this selection meet the ultimate size of the species, it has reached 18 x 0.8 m at the Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey, UK (Tree Register 2019).
Similar to ‘Cockleshell’ in having rounded leaves, said to differ in their larger size (to 3.5 cm wide) and in usually having a greater number of lateral vein pairs (usually 4). It was discovered, propagated and distributed by Jackman of Woking, Surrey, in the 1870s (Krüssmann 1984). The tallest and largest known in the UK and Ireland are two separate trees at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, which were 23 m x 0.54 m dbh (planted 1929), and 20 m x 0.79 m dbh (planted 1939) when both were last measured in 2014 (Tree Register 2019). Bean (1981) said it was “perhaps the daintiest of beech varieties” (presumably he was speaking in terms of foliage) but that was before the arrival of ‘Cockleshell’ which is arguably daintier still.
Raised by Bomer in the Netherlands and released in 1986. Its foliage is thinly (<5 mm) and irregularly margined cream when young, becoming more or less white later in the season. Hatch suggests it is not as striking as other clones with broader variegated margins such as ‘Albomarginata’. (Hatch 2018-2020).
Krüssman (1984) likened this clone to a small-leaved, smaller and narrower form of ‘Riversii’, adding it was “the darkest of the purple beeches!” retaining this colouration late into the autumn. The only example seen at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in late July 2019 was a tree of c. 30 years of age, with extensive die-back in the upper half of the tree which has clearly been ongoing for some time. The foliage was a good, dark purple, but not obviously darker than other named clones such as ‘Tur’, which grew nearby. Krüssman added that “New growth commences a few weeks later than most of the other Beeches, leaves persist long into winter” (Krüssmann 1984). These characteristics, together with the purple colouration persisting long into the autumn, may help to distinguish this clone from other members of the ‘Purpurea Group’ when comparison is possible, but as with most members of the that group, definitive distinction will be far from straightforward.
‘Spaethiana’ is apparently a more popular tree in mainland Europe than in the UK. The Tree Register doesn’t list any examples from the UK or Ireland, but it appears to be widely available in mainland Europe, and from larger nurseries in the UK that supply the landscaping trade, for example Van Den Berk.
Fagus sylvatica 'Norwegica'
Fagus sylvatica 'Norwegiensis'
Perhaps the darkest foliage of all the purple-leaved Beeches is that of ‘Swat Magret’. Krüssmann (1984) suggests it is earlier to leaf out and that it retains its colouration for longer into the autumn. It was raised in Germany by Timms and co. in the 1880s and introduced to the trade in 1895, though it remains rare. Jacobson (1996) lists the clone(s) ‘Norwegica’ and ‘Norwegiensis’ in synonymy, while Hillier & Coombes (2002) discuss these names under ‘Riversii’.
Fagus sylvatica f. arcuata Schwer.
Fagus sylvatica f. conglomerata Bean
Fagus sylvatica f. suentelensis Schelle
Fagus sylvatica f. tortuosa (Pépin) Hegi
Fagus sylvatica 'Arcuata'
Fagus sylvatica 'Contorta'
Fagus sylvatica 'Faux de Verzy'
'Fagus sylvatica 'Hêtre Parasol'
Fagus sylvatica 'Nana Pendula'
Fagus sylvatica 'Pagnyensis'
Fagus sylvatica 'Suentelensis'
Fagus sylvatica 'Remillyensis'
Fagus sylvatica 'Verzy'
Occasionally listed as f. tortuosa, this name is applicable to a form usually making a semi-dwarf, widespreading tree, with somewhat twisted and contorted branches. Such forms may occasionally be encountered in wild populations, and a range of different ‘parent’ trees appear to have been propagated in a number of different countires all in the early 19th century, when there was growing interest in the many variants of Beech. Jacobson says it is “a variable assemblage, having in common more or less dwarfed habit usually at least twice as broad as tall, with twisted and partly pendulous branches. Numerous clones have been named, and nobody pretends to be able to tell them apart” (Jacobson 1996).
The various clones referred to by Jacobson are all listed in synonymy here. A purple-leaved variant, ‘Tortuosa Purpurea’, is listed separately. An image by Hatch (2017) of a plant labelled ‘Faux de Verzy’ (which incidentally he places under f. pendula) taken in the US National Arboretum shows a low spreading shrub reminiscent, in habit at least, of a young Parrotia persica, which often spend their early years in European cultivation striking out in all directions looking for somewhere to go.
Two trees at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, UK, have been top-grafted, giving them c. 2 m of clear trunk before the first branches, which then spread out forming an attractive and extensive umbrella-like canopy. Were scions to be collected from either of these trees, but then grafted low, the result would be a small shrub 1-2 m tall with far-reaching stems which would weave together forming a ground-cover shrub of pehaps a meter in height but up to ten across. Clearly ‘Tortuosa’ is a very variable entity and its appearance is hugely influenced both by the type of graft and by its deployment in the garden/landscape, hence we have taken a very wide view of the application of this name and included a great many cultivars in synonymy.
A purple-leaved form of ‘Tortuosa’.
This rare selection was known in France before 1870, where it was introduced to the trade by Simon-Louis Frères of Metz. Krüssmann described it thus: “Leaves nearly white, green punctate, margin pink…Not very viable and therefore rare; presumably no longer cultivated” (Krüssmann 1984). Bean said that “According to Jouin, the manager of [Simon-Louis Frères’s] tree and shrub nursery, it was not vigorous and had small leaves that burnt in the sun and were rose-edged when young, the margin later becoming white. He seems to have had no high opinion of it and cautioned that it should not be confused with F. s. purpurea tricolor [sic] (as in fact it has been)” (Bean 1981). Confusion between these two clones would seem to perpetuate to the present day, and as both Bean and Krussman eluded, trees labelled simply as ‘Tricolor’ are likely to actually belong to ‘Purpurea Tricolor’.
Said to be similar to ‘Riversii’ in its very large leaves, to 11 cm long, but more richly textured with sunken veins on the upper surface. The leaf colour is very dark purple. (Hatch 2017). However, two young trees seen at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, UK, in late July 2019 had numerous shoots with normal-sized leaves, albeit of particularly rich purple. This may be due to the young age of the plants (c. 10 years) or other local envrionmental conditions. As with so many other named clones that are clearly attributable to a group, in this case the ‘Atropurpurea’ / ‘Purpurea Group’, it would be challenging in the extreme to assign a particular clonal name to this tree were one to encounter an unlabelled example with no known history.
Quite unlike the distcintly two-toned variegated clones such as ‘Albovariegata’, Luteovariegata’, ‘Bicolor Sartini’, ‘Gold Edge’ etc. the clone ‘Viridivariegata’ has mottled variegation incorporating yellow-green and cream, variously arranged around a central block of ordinary green concentrated in the basal two-thirds of the leaf blade. Other clones with this sort of mottled variegation include ‘Franken’ and ‘Marmorstar’, but these differ in the size and placement of their block of ordinary green.
‘Viridivariegata’ was introduced to the trade by Lombarts of Holland in 1935 (Krüssmann 1984) but appears to remain relatively scarce in cultivation. It is reasonably vigorous at least in youth - a tree at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, UK, has grown on average 1 m per year since planting in the late 2000s (Tree Register 2019).
This slow-growing but ultimately full-sized selection has very glossy leaves which are yellow-green at first, becoming greener with age and eventually barely differing from the type. in the first few days of expanding leaves it is a very beautiful golden feature in the landscape, looking well among the new growth of May, but those who find yellow foliage ‘difficult’ in the landscape will be consoled by the fact that this a fugacious effect. It was discovered in 1890 by Professor Dragaschevitch in the wild near Vranja, Serbia, which along with some of its morphological traits has fuelled speculation that it represents the hybrid F. x taurica. Späth introduced it to the trade in 1892. The name ‘Zlatia’ is derived from the Serbian word “zlato” meaning “gold”. (Krüssmann 1984, Bean 1981).