This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Though doubts have been expressed as to the antiquity of the Beech as a British tree there can be no reason for suspicion as to its being native here, for it is found in Preglacial beds at Happisburgh, Norfolk, and in Neolithic deposits. It is found in the N. Temperate Zone over an area covered by a triangle formed by Norway, Asia Minor, and Spain. In Great Britain it is found in the Peninsula,
Channel, Thames, and Anglia provinces, except in Hunts; in the Severn province; in S. Wales, not in Brecon, Radnor, Cardigan; in N. Wales, not in Montgomery or Merioneth; in the Trent province,
Photo. H. Irving - Beech (fagus Sylvatica, L.)
Mersey province, except in Mid Lancs; in the Humber and Tyne provinces and the Isle of Man, and up to 1200 ft. in Derby; but it is planted in Scotland and Ireland.
Since this tree is found in Preglacial deposits, as remarked, there can be no question as to its being native even though Caesar did not mention it, a clear case of the uselessness of negative evidence alone.
It is a woodland plant, forming a distinct type of formation, which is characteristic in general of chalk and limestone districts, and elsewhere it is planted in hedgerows and as avenues. The root is enveloped in a fungoid mycelium or mycorhiza.
The Beech has a characteristic habit, unlike the Oak or Elm, the bole being erect with two main branches, and the tree lofty; or else it branches at a lower level, and the branches are spreading and wavy, ultimately spreading.
The Beech is a lofty tree, which under exceptional circumstances may attain a height of nearly 120 ft., and a girth of nearly 30 ft. The bark is smooth and grey. The branches extend horizontally. The buds are acute. The stipules soon fall, and are membranous. The leaves are deciduous or evergreen, shortly stalked, with a long narrow point, oblong to egg-shaped, smooth or downy when young, the later leaves fringed at the border with hairs, and in bud they are plaited parallel to the nerves.
The Beech is monoecious. The male flowers are in long stalked heads, and drooping; the flower-stalk is 1-2 in. long. There are no bracts, or but small ones. The calyx is 4-7-lobed. There are 8-40 stamens, with slender projecting anther-stalks and oblong anthers. The female flowers are on shorter stalks, 2-4, in an involucre of overlapping bracts, 4-partite. The limb of the calyx has 4-5 teeth. The ovary is 3-angled, 3-celled. There are 3 linear styles. The fruit is 3-angled, smooth, 2 growing together, 1-3-seeded. The capsule has bristly segments, and is 4-cleft.
The Beech is 40-60 ft. high as a rule. The flowers bloom in April and May. It is a deciduous tree, propagated by seed.
It only flowers occasionally, saving up material in the interim. The flowers of the Beech are admirably adapted to pollination by the wind. The stamens are long, projecting, and are numerous, so that the pollen can readily be blown away by the wind. They are also slender and readily shaken, so that when a puff of wind comes a cloud of pollen is blown upwards to settle, some of it at least, upon the 1inear styles of flowers above. The Beech is an example, unusual in the group, of a tree in which the flowers appear after the leaves.
The fruit is a dry, edible nut enclosed in a cupule, with a hard pericarp, dispersed by rodents, squirrels, birds, etc.
Polyporus squamosus, Fomes fomentarius, are common fungal pests. The leaves are galled by Hormomyia fagi and H. piligera. Cowwheat is parasitic on its roots. Other fungi infesting beech are Nectria, Sphcerulina, Rosellinia, Dichcena, Bulgaria, Armillaria, Lenzites, Panus, Psilocybe, Hypholoma, Pholiota, Collybia, Fomes, Polyporus, Fistulina, Hydnum, and it is galled by Monochetus, Hormomyia, Cecidomyia.
The insect pests are, amongst many others: Lucanus cervus, Sinodendron cylindricum, Dorcus parallelipipedus, Melolontha vulgaris, Agrilus viridis, Orchestes fagi, Rhopalomesites lardyi, Cryphalus fagi, Cryptococcus fagi, Phyllaphis fagi, etc, Stauropus fagi, Limacodes testudo, Nola strigula, Aglaia tau, Dicycla 00, etc.
Fagus, Pliny, is the Latin for beech, and is cognate with the word beech. The second Latin name indicates its woodland habitat.
This tree is called Beech, Buck, Buck's-mast, Hay Beech, Mast. Buck-mast was so called because " deere delight to feed thereon". "In Hants," a writer says, "the fruit of the beech tree is called Mast or Beech Mast, and when hogs are turned out into the woods in autumn to feed on it they are said to be turned out to mast." The tree was superstitiously regarded as proof against lightning.
The wood is used by turners, joiners, millwrights. The thin bark has been used for basket-work and band-boxes, and for straw for palliasses. Pigs and deer are fond of the mast, which served as an article of food in ancient times. The wood is durable under water, but liable to be affected by extremes of temperature, and to be attacked by beetles. An oil is contained in the mast, which is expressed as a sort of olive oil, and also sugar and starch.
Beech wood is used abroad for charcoal, and for sabots and planks, after soaking in water and smoking.
Essential Specific Characters: 283. Fagus sylvatica, L. - Tree, tall, smooth bark, leaves ovate, ciliate at the margin, glabrous, serrate, silky in bud, male flowers in crowded catkins, pendent, females 1-3, fruit triquetrous.