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Nature Explored

Photography
by Chris Dunford

 

 

 

 

 

 





 

Beech

The most beautiful tree in the Wood

There are eleven species of deciduous trees in the Family Fagaceae native to temperate Europe Asia and North America. F. Sylvatica is the most commonly seen.

The beech is a large tree that may exceed 35 m in height and 1.5 m in diameter near the base of the trunk. It can grow for up to 300 years and when coppiced, it has been recorded at over 1000 years old. The smooth bark of the beech
The smooth bark of the
beech. Taken on mobile phone

The bark is generally smooth and light grey in colour and is thin and easily scarred.

Beech grows on a wide range of soil types: acidic or basic, as long as it is not waterlogged, but prefers chalky soils and limestone.

Beech trees begin to produce leaves in early Spring, and flower in April or May. The oil-rich nuts are produced in September and October

The tree canopy casts dense shade, and carpets the ground with leaf litter. The arrangement of leaves is such that they overlap, which, while efficient for the tree, shades the ground beneath and can also prevent rain from reaching it and hence very little can grow underneath it. So if the floor of the wood you're walking through comprises of little more than fungi and rotting leaves, it's very likely a beech wood.

Beech - The embodiment of Diana Goddess of the woodlands

The leaves of beech trees are entire or sparsely toothed, from 5–15 cm long and 4–10 cm broad. Beeches bear both male and female flowers on the same plant. The small flowers are unisexual, the female flowers borne in pairs, the male flowers wind-pollinating catkins. They are produced in Spring shortly after the new leaves appear. Beechmast with nut inside
Beechmast with nut inside.
Taken using fill in flash

The fruit is a small, sharply three–angled nut 10–15 mm long, borne singly or in pairs in soft-spined husks 1.5– 2.5 cm long, known as cupules. The nuts are edible, though bitter (though not nearly as bitter as acorns) with a high tannin content, and are called beechnuts or beechmast. They have a high enough fat content that they can be pressed for edible oil.

A bumper crop is produced in Autumn every four to five years. Badgers, deer squirrels and many birds such as wood pigeons feast on them. Beech can also support many species such as hole-nesting birds, bats, wood-boring insects, fungi such as the Devil’s bolete, beech milk-cap, beechwood sickener, beech jellydisc, beech woodwart and a variety of moss and lichen species.

As a naturally growing forest tree, it marks the important border between the European deciduous forest zone and the northern pine forest zone. This border is important for both wildlife and fauna Beech leaves can be used in salad
Beech leaves can be used in salad.
Taken using fill in flash

Beech was a late entrant to Great Britain after the last glaciation, and may have been restricted to the south of England. it was possibly introduced by Neolithic tribes who planted the trees for their edible nuts.

Beech relies entriely on a symbiotic relationship with various fungi (mychorryzia) in the soil to pass minerals to it in exchange for sugars from the tree.

Beech bark disease is a disease that kills beech trees in the eastern United States and Europe. In North America, the disease results when the beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga, attacks the bark, creating a wound. Later, two different fungi (Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima common to North America can invade the tree through the wound, causing cankers to form ultimately leading to the death of the tree.The first sign that is visible is a woolly, white, waxy covering that the beech scale insect secretes. Also a reddish-brown fluid may ooze from the wound site at some stage.

Chips of beech wood are used in the brewing of Budweiser beer as a fining agent. Beech logs are burned to dry the malts used in some German smoked beers, giving the beers their typical flavour. Beech is also used to smoke Westphalian ham, and various sausages and cheeses.

Some drums are made from Beech, which has a tone between those of maple and birch, the two most popular drum woods.

The timber is widely used for furniture framing and carcass construction, flooring and engineering purposes, in plywood and in household items like plates, but rarely as a decorative wood.

In 19th Century England beech oil was used for cooking and fuel for lamps. Late Autumn
Late Autumn

In Celtic mythology and particularly in Gaul and the Pyrenees, Fagus was the god of beech trees. It is thought that this tree was sacred to the Greek god Zeus and was seen as a symbol of prosperity. It is also believed that the beech is the embodiment of Diana, goddess of the wild woodlands

The tree has many medicinal properties and various parts of it have been used to treat a large number of complaints from skin infections to worms.

Others believe having beech wood in the house will prolong labour and childbirth as well as complicate a spirit's passing at death.

It is said if you carve the words of a wish in a piece of beech wood and bury it in the soil, as the wood decays the wish will come true.