The beech tree is one of the most widely found trees in the world. The species of the tree are found in North America, Europe and Asia. They are common in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scandinavia, the eastern United States, southeastern Canada and Japan. The tree can even be found in Mexico.
Beech trees grow in a wide range of soils ranging from acidic to basic. The only environment they do not grow in is waterlogged soils. A thick canopy provides shade for the forest floor but the bark is thin and scars easily and the tree is unable to heal itself so any carving made in the bark remains as long as the tree is standing. A bark disease is caused by insects and can lead to the death of the tree and is a fungal blight similar to what affects the chestnut tree.
In the United Kingdom the beech tree is commonly used for hedging along roadways. The most impressive of these is the Meikleour Hedge in Scotland. Planted in 1745, it was left to grow to honor the two men who planted the trees, who were killed at the Battle of Culloden and it is said that the trees grow towards the heavens. In more modern times the trees are trimmed every ten years to keep them at around 100 feet in height. The tallest specimen in the world stands at 144 feet in Newtimber Woods in West Sussex, England and this tree is believed to be about 200 years old. Most of the other tallest specimens in the world are located in the United Kingdom.
The tree produces a small fruit known as a beechnut that drop from the tree in the autumn. The fruit is edible with a bitter taste but can be pressed for oil. In the springtime the leaves can be used for salad and are sweet in taste.
In North American forests the beech tree is paired with maple trees in the northern climates and with a magnolia tree in the southern climates. The tree does not grow fast and does not hold up well in urban environments due to pollution. The wood from the tree was used in Germany for writing material before paper was developed. In Olde English these tablets were known as bōc and in Norse as bók. Several other languages like Dutch and German have similar words. It is no surprise that the word book evolved from this.
The wood makes excellent firewood as it is easily split and can burn for hours with calm flames. Some drums are made of beechwood and its tone is somewhere between maple and birch. European beech trees are used to build furniture, plywood, flooring and carcass construction. Beech has also been used for the wooden components of rifles when walnut is not available or is too expensive. Perhaps its most famous use here in the United States is in the brewing of beer. Anheuser-Busch famously uses beechwood barrels to flavor their beer and the yeast is able to settle on the bottom contributing to the flavor of the beer. Beech logs are also used to flavor some German smoked beers and other food products like ham or sausage. Tasty!