This section is from the book "Wayside And Woodland Blossoms", by Edward Step. Also available from Amazon: Wayside And Woodland Blossoms: A Guide To British Wild-Flowers.
A Beech-tree growing on a chalky hill is one of the most beautiful of forest trees. It is, moreover, a tree that has left its marks upon our topography and literature, for many place-names (such as Buckingham, Buckland, Bookham) record the fact that in early times Beeches grew plentifully in the neighbourhood, and book is a survival of the period when the Runic poems were written upon slabs of Buk.
Without being at all glossy, like portions of the Birch and Cherry, the bark of the Beech is smooth, and remarkably even If allowed to grow naturally, without the pollarding which has produced such picturesque monsters as those at Burnham, the Beech-trunk grows clean and straight to a great height, sending off slender, more or less downward-bending, branches with shiny-red skins. The twigs bear long, slender, fine-pointed brown buds that are closely mimicked by the snail Clausilia laminata, that loves to haunt the mossy angles between its large spreading roots, and to climb at even up its trunk, which from its smoothness and grey colour is far more suggestive of the gothic column than is the ruddy pine-stem. In spring these buds expand and drop off as the rising sap swells the rolled-up leaves within, which emerge bright silky things, plaited, and edged with the most delicate fringe of gossamer, that gleams in the April sunshine. Then the Beech is indeed a thing of beauty, fair and majestic. The Birch has well been styled by Coleridge "The Lady of the Woods," but the Beech is surely entitled to take higher rank as the Queen of the Forest, especially in the spring, when covered with this bright and tender foliage, amidst which the flowers are lost.
In April or May the Beech flowers. The blossoms are of two kinds, male and female, produced on stalks from the axils. The male flowers are combined in threes or fours within an involucre, forming a silky tassel as it hangs downwards with its yellow anthers waving. The individual flower has a bell-shaped, five or six-lobed perianth, with a varying number of stamens. Nearer the growing end of the twig rise the female flowers on shorter stalks. They are usually two or four together, in a silky-haired, four-parted involucre, known as a cupule. Individually these female flowers possess a perianth whose mouth is minutely toothed, within which is a three-sided, three-celled ovary surmounted by three slender spreading styles and stigmas. As the three-cornered fruits grow and ripen the cupule becomes hard and its outer scales spiny; the four valves part and turn back to disclose and set free the smooth brown nuts or "mast," beloved of swine. In France an oil is expressed from the mast, and the latter is also used as a food for poultry, like its namesake, the Buckwheat (see page 118). It is from these edible qualities that the genus gets its name, derived from the Greek, phago - to eat.
Fagus sylvatica. - Cupuliferae. There are many varieties of the Common Beech to be met in plantations, such as the Copper Beech, the Purple Beech, the Variegated Beech, the Cut-leaved Beech, the Crested Beech, the Weeping Beech, the White Beech, etc.
Flowers and Fruit of Beech.
a. Male flowers.
b. Female flowers in cupule.
c. Ovary and stigmas removed from cupule.
d. Section of ovary, showing the three cells. e. Ripe cupule open, showing nuts.