Beech, a forest tree of the genus fagus of Endlicher's order cupuliferce, Lindley's coryla-cece, Jussieu's quercinece, and of the Linnaean class moncecia polyandria. The generic characters of the genus are: sterile (male) flowers - ament globular, pendulous on silky thread; perianth 6-cleft, bell-shaped; 5 to 12 stamens. Fertile (female) flowers - 2 within a 4-lobed prickly involucre; perianth 4 to 5-lobed; ovary 3-celled (2 abortive); styles 3; nut one-seeded, triangular, enclosed in a cupnle which completely covers it. Some branches bear male, others female flowers. The number of species is very limited, some being considered as mere varieties. In the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, on both continents, there are extensive forests consisting of beeches, which also occur mixed with oaks, pines, firs, etc. F. sylvatica, the common European white beech, has the leaves ovate, acuminate, slightly toothed, ciliate on the margin, acute at base; nut ovate, 3-sided, obtuse, pointed. Of this the American is taken to be a variety, growing in Florida and other southern states.
F.ferru-ginea, or red beech, has the leaves oblong ovate, acuminate, pubescent beneath, coarsely toothed, obtuse, and unequally subcordate at base; nut acutely 3-sided, muricate; most frequent in the northern United States. F. obliqua and Dumbey'i, both having valuable wood and a beautiful crown; F. procera, scarcely less towering in height than the araucaria; and F. pumilia, a dwarf species growing above the region of trees on lofty mountains, are all natives of the Andes of southern Chili. Some species grow in the Magellanic regions, others in Tasmania and the colder parts of New Zealand. The varieties of the European F. syha-tica are: F. purpurea, whose bright blood-colored leaves, when tossed by the wind in sunshine, seem to be flames; F. cuprea, with copper-colored shining leaves; F. asplenifolia, with some leaves entire, and others cut into narrow strips; F. pendula, or weeping beech, with branches drooping to the ground; F. cristata, with ragged crest-like leaves; F. va-riegata, with leaves spotted with white; F. la-tifolia, with chestnut-like leaves, etc.
All these are ornamental trees. - The beech is easily propagated from seed, also by grafting, budding, and in-arching. It thrives in a deep moist soil (on the Ohio some attain 100 ft. in height), but also succeeds well in rocky soil, in heaps of stones under cliffs, even in shaded situations. When crowded by its kindred, or by other trees, its stem rises pillar-like even to 80 ft. in undiminished thickness, before branching into a tufty crown, reminding one of Gothic halls. Standing alone, it sends forth branches at from 10 to 30 ft. above the root, at a large angle, far and wide, the lower ones almost horizontal, while the upper rise to form a majestic crown. In depth of shade it is scarcely equalled by any other tree. Its light grayish or leaden-greenish, smooth, shining bark, its rich green, shining foliage, which appears earlier than that of the oak, from long buds in tender drooping jets, and which is tinted yellow, reddish, and brown in the autumn, remaining often through the winter on the tree, recommend it for avenues, plantations, and clumps. Of these there are many in Normandy and other parts of Europe, which abound in beech forests. The diameter of the common beech seldom surpasses 3 ft. The tree scarcely bears fruit before the 50th year of its age, and then not every year.
After the 140th year the wood rings become thinner. The tree lives for about 250 years. Some stems are fluted, some even twisted. The roots stretch far away, near to the surface of the soil, partly above it. Young beeches are useful for live hedges, as they bear pruning, and as their. branches coalesce by being tied together, c by rubbing each other. Amputations of limbs and deep incisions in the tree soon become obliterated by the bark, which contains a peculiar periderme. The wood is yellowish white in the common beech, brownish in the red; very hard, permeated by transverse lighter-colored pith rays and shorter rays, so that the longitudinal fibres are somewhat waving. Its close wood cells, with thick walls, afford a great quantity of heating material and of potash, so that the wood ranks next to hickory, oak, and maple as fuel. It is easily decayed by alternation of dryness and moisture, and is unfit for many purposes; but it is good for cylinders for polishing glass, for plane stocks, chair posts, shoe lasts, tool handles, wheel felloes, cart bodies, rollers, screws, bowls, and even for ship building where no better timber can be obtained. It is incorruptible when constantly under water.
The tree is so rarely struck by lightning that woodmen and Indians consider themselves safe when under its shelter. Very good oil may be pressed from the beech nut, almost equalling that of olives, and lasting longer than any other after proper purification. Wild animals feed on the nut, swine are fattened on it, and people eat it in Europe; too freely eaten, it produces giddiness and nausea. The husks of the nut contain fagine, a peculiar narcotic extractive principle.
Beech Tree (Fagus sylvatica).
Beech Leaves, Flowers, and Nut.