Beech – Fagus sylvatica (Fagaceae)
Beech isn’t native to Scotland as its range only reaches into Southern Britain. It was introduced to Scotland as it was planted widely for ornament and shelter, so can often been seen in woodlands, estates and field margins. It is widely used for hedging as it maintains the autumn leaves throughout the winter, increasing its shelter value. It is a large tree, up to 35m in height, with a large straight trunk and smooth grey bark, which has been compared to an elephants skin. The fruit is a small, triangular shaped nut, which is held in a spiky capsule and released when ripe.
The timber isn’t particularly durable, but it is highly valued for turning, furniture making and tool handles. The nuts, also known as mast, were used as pig feed.
There are a large number of varieties and cultivars in cultivation, including the Dawyck Beech Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’. This was a chance discovery by one of the former owners of the Dawyck estate. It is a fastigiate variety, giving it a columnar form. There are several specimens of this cultivar still growing on the Dawyck eatate, near Peebles, which in one of RBGEs regional gardens.