British Tree Series – European beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Caroline Brett

Made by the Forge plants a native sapling for every order received. 2018 sees a new series highlighting the virtues of the British trees the company promotes as a major part of its ethos.

Neolithic tribes introduced the beech to Great Britain at the end of the last Stone Age for their edible nuts. Historically, the nuts or masts were an important source of fat and protein. As beech masts are small, covered in a hard outer shell, have a fibrous inner husk and are mildly toxic raw, only dedicated foragers gather them today. Roasting shelled masts improves their flavour and destroys the toxins. The French use them to make a kind of coffee and they can be made into a delicious pesto. Not so popular with people perhaps but the seeds are relished by mice, voles, squirrels and birds.

Beech trees are intolerant of waterlogged soil and severe frosts. They grow to 40 meters and live for up to 350 years but if coppiced can live to over a 1000. The tree canopy casts dense shade, keeping the forest floor clear of undergrowth, and carpets the ground thickly with leaf litter. In spring, before the leaves unfurl and block out the sunlight, beech woods with their rich soil support spectacular blankets of bluebells.

Beech bark is extremely thin and scars easily. It’s long been used to carve lovers’ initials and other forms of graffiti. The wood is fine-grained and knot free and used to make furniture, rifle butts, shoe heads and brush heads.

Beech supports ninety-eight species of insects including many species of moth and butterfly. The woods are also associated with native truffles (always seek expert advice before eating any wild fungi).

 The leaves turn from bright, lime green in spring though yellow to glorious russet before they fall.  Beech trees rarely fail to put on a spectacular show each Autumn.

Caroline Brett
Caroline Brett

Caroline graduated from Bristol University with a BSc (Hons) in Zoology. She worked briefly in radio before joining Survival Anglia Television as a writer/producer. Now as a director of her own production company, she has made films on a diverse range of subjects from black caiman in Brazil, the history of the pearl trade in Bahrain and a remote island in the Seychelles. She has written nine books, numerous articles and is a commissioned artist.

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