Beech trees tollerate most soils but like especially calcareous or deep sandy loam. They are hardy in cool, moist temperate climates, like ours in the Northeast. The European Beech is native to central and southern Europe, especially in high altitudes. Its range extends from southern Sweden to northern Sicily, east to northwest Turkey and west through France, southern Europe, northern Portugal and central Spain. The European Beech occurs in MA, MD, ME, NY, OH, RI, UT and ON in Canada. The weeping variety is cultivated and does not occur in forests.
Origin, history, and uses:
The weeping beech is a variety of the European beech, Fagus sylvatica, classified by Linnaeus in 1753. It is a dominant tree in much of European forests; in fact, the species name “sylvatica” comes from the Latin for “forest.” The weeping variety of the European beech was developed in 1836 by the English horticulturist and writer, John Claudius Loudon who worked as a city and garden planner in London and wrote and edited for numerous garden magazines. This tree was first introduced to America by Samuel Browne Parsons, a Quaker and nursery-man in 1847–he was traveling in Belgium in search of unusual plants and purchased a shoot to bring back to his nursery in Queens, NY. In fact, every weeping beech in America is descended from that one tree (which died right after its 150th anniversary in 1997)!
The European beech tree probably originated in England around 4000 BCE though there is evidence that that first appearance is a result of dispersal by Stone Age man who probably used beechnuts as a source of food. In Denmark, the tree originated much later between 500 and 1000 CE and was also probably dispersed by humans during the Viking Age. Interestingly, the beech is considered native in southern England and introduced in northern England, where it is removed from native forests.
Beech trees have been used particularly in furniture making, parquet floors, and even railroad ties because of its hardness, pliability and load-bearing capacities. The inferior quality wood is used for wood pulp and it is also good for fires because it burns clean and slowly (it is used as a smoking wood for cheese making). The origin of the name “beech” comes from the Celtic word for “book,” possibly because beech wood tablets were used for some of the first books written in runes.
The emergence of leaf buds, leaf coloration, leaf fall and a new set of leaves and flowers is determined by a combination of more daylight hours and increasing temperature. In general, leaf buds are produced in late summer, leaf coloration in late autumn, leaf fall in winter with partial marcescence (see "leaves" section above). Buds usually break from late-April to early-May, and, in a particular study done on beech trees in Switzerland, leaf-unfolding in the spring takes about one to nineteen days and six to thirty-six days for leaf-coloring in autumn.