Best grown in deep, rich, moist but well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Intolerant of wet, poorly drained soils. Difficult to transplant and does not always grow well in urban settings. Reportedly tolerates a wider range of soils than American beech.
Variegated foliage may scorch in hot afternoon sun in the St. Louis area where sundappled conditions with some afternoon shade may be best.
Fagus sylvatica, commonly called European beech, is a large deciduous tree typically growing to 50-60’ (less frequently to 100’) tall with a dense, upright-oval to rounded-spreading crown. It is native to woodlands in central and southern Europe. European colonists brought this tree to America in the mid-1700s and it has been a popular ornamental shade tree since that time. European beech is primarily distinguished from the similar American beech (see Fagus grandifolia) by (a) smaller size, (b) darker gray bark, and (c) shorter leaves that have wavy mostly untoothed margins. It is a low-branched tree, with its trunk ranging from 2-3’ (less frequently 4’) in diameter. Trunks have distinctive bark that is thin, smooth and gray. Ovate to elliptic, lustrous dark green leaves (to 4” long) have wavy mostly toothless margins and prominent parallel veins. Foliage turns golden bronze in fall. Monoecious yellowish green flowers bloom in April-May, the male flowers in drooping, long-stemmed, globular clusters and the female flowers in short spikes. Female flowers give way to triangular nuts enclosed by spiny bracts. Beechnuts ripen in fall and are edible. Many cultivars are available in commerce in a variety of different forms, leaf shapes and leaf colors.
Genus name comes from the Latin name.
Specific epithet means growing in woods or forest-loving.
‘Purpurea Tricolor’ is an extremely attractive, smaller form featuring tricolor variegation. It typically grows to 30’ tall and from a distance projects a rose foliage color in spring. The variegation is actually a bit more complicated. Foliage typically emerges in spring as purple with pink margins, changes to dark bronze-green with pale pink (later white) margins in summer and finally turns bronze-gold in fall. Leaves (to 4” long) have prominent parallel veins. Nomenclature on this beech cultivar is a bit confusing. ‘Purpurea Tricolor’ is the preferred name and is synonymous with ‘Roseomarginata’. The old French cultivar called ‘Tricolor’ (green leaves edged with pink changing to white) is extremely rare and may no longer be circulating to any extent in commerce in the U. S. Many plants sold today as ‘Tricolor’ may in fact be ‘Purpurea Tricolor’ (Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder lists: ‘Tricolor’ misapplied see F. sylvatica ‘Purpurea Tricolor’).
No serious insect or disease problems. Beech scale is an occasional problem. Watch for aphids, Japanese beetles and caterpillars. Distressed trees may be attacked by borers. Beech bark disease, canker and powdery mildew may occur.
Foliage may scorch in too much sun.
Purple-leaved specimen or accent for areas around the home.