Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor'

Common Name: European beech 
Type: Tree
Family: Fagaceae
Zone: 4 to 7
Height: 20.00 to 30.00 feet
Spread: 10.00 to 20.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Yellowish-green
Sun: Part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Colorful, Good Fall
Tolerate: Deer


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 sun dappled conditions with some afternoon shade may be best.

Noteworthy Characteristics

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 (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.

Several different cultivars with attractive foliage variegation are currently being sold in the U.S. under the common name of tricolor beech, including ‘Purpurea Tricolor’, ‘Roseo-marginata’ and ‘Tricolor’. Differences between these cultivars are somewhat confusing. ‘Tricolor’ reportedly originated in France in 1873. As originally described, it featured nearly white leaves spotted green with a pink margin. ‘Tricolor’ is now considered to be quite rare and may no longer be circulating in commerce. Plants sold as ‘Tricolor’ may in some cases be ‘Purpurea Tricolor’. Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder lists ‘Tricolor’ misapplied, see F. sylvatica ‘Purpurea Tricolor’ in addition to ‘Tricolor’. Moreover, RHS currently takes the position that ‘Roseo-marginata’ (often described as the purple form of ‘Tricolor’) is in fact a synonym of ‘Purpurea Tricolor’. The bottom line is that tricolor beeches in general, regardless of assigned cultivar name, provide often stunning variegated foliage (purple/pink, green and white), particularly in spring. They are understory trees that typically grows to 30’ tall and from a distance usually project a rose foliage color in spring although the actual variegation is a bit more complicated. Leaves (to 4” long) have prominent parallel veins. Monoecious yellowish green flowers bloom in April-May but are not showy.


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 full sun.


Pink/purple-leaved specimen or accent for areas around the home.