Beech trees come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Use the trees for shade, as a specimen tree or to create a windbreak or privacy screen. The trees are all medium to large with deciduous leaves that turn a variety of colors in the fall. Beech trees are not known for their flowers. The leaves and the nuts are what they are famous for, and there is an abundance of each.
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a symmetrically shaped tree with a dense, oval-shaped crown. European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) is a slow-growing, oval-shaped tree and is more adaptable to the pollution and other problems of an urban setting than the American beech. Weeping European beech ( Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’) is easily distinguishable from the rest of the beech trees by the weeping branches resembling those of the willow.
American beech normally grows to a height of 50 to 75 feet with a spread of 40 to 60 feet. Trees have been measured as tall as 200 feet. European beech grows up to 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Weeping European beech grows from 30 to 50 feet tall and is about the same in width.
American beech features oblong or egg-shaped leaves 2 to 4 inches long that turn copper or yellow in the fall. European beech produces medium- to dark-green, oval-shaped leaves that turn chartreuse, gold or yellow-brown in the fall. European weeping beech features oval or egg-shaped leaves from 2 to 4 inches long that turn copper in the fall.
The flowers of the American beech are small, bloom in the spring and are followed by hard, brown edible fruits up to 1 inch long that are a favorite of birds and small animals. The European beech has male and female flowers on the same tree. They bloom in April and May and are followed by edible fruits that ripen in September and October, another favorite of the birds and animals. Weeping European beech produces flowers in the spring followed by 1-inch-long fruits that please humans and birds alike.
American beech is native to North America and hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8. Plant American beech in full sun and a moist, well-drained soil. Plant European beech in full sun or partial shade and deep, rich, moist, well-drained soil. The tree is hardy in zones 5 to 7. Weeping European beech is hardy in zones 4 through 7 and likes full sun or partial shade and a well-drained soil.
The American beech produces a dense shade, making it hard for anything to grow underneath. The roots can get under the sidewalk and lift it up. The roots of the European beech rise to the surface as the tree ages. Lack of water can cause the leaves of the European weeping beech to scorch, and too much water can kill the roots. Aphids and borers attack beech trees. Powdery mildew and bleeding canker are also problems.