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Tree to 50 m x 1(-1.3?) m dbh, coppiced trees considerably broader. Bark pale grey. Young shoots silky hairy at first, becoming more or less glabrous. Leaves oval-elliptic, apex acute, base rounded, (3-)4-10 cm x 2.5-4 cm, 5-8 pairs of veins, margins ciliate or remotely and very finely toothed (distinctly lobed in some cultivars), bright green above, pale green below, with a silky pubescence on both sides along midrib and primary veins at least when young; petiole 0.3-1 cm. Perianth of male flowers divided almost to base. Cupule c. 2.5 cm, scales are of one kind, needle-like. Peduncles densely pubescent, 2.5 cm. (Tutin et al. (eds) 1993, Cullen et al. (eds) 2011).
Habitat Native in woods on well drained soils, especially in hills and mountains. Not naturally at home on poorly drained soils or in low-lying plains, etc., but extensively planted everywhere.
USDA Hardiness Zone 4
RHS Hardiness Rating H7
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
A great many authors have extolled the aesthetic and practical virtues of the European Beech, from Virgil and Pliny to Keats and Evelyn. Elwes & Henry devote a full 22 pages of their seminal tome to it. The volume of praise heaped upon it by the famous British dendrologist Alan Mitchell is equalled only by the scorn with which he fervently lashes the purple-leaved cultivars of the same (Mitchell 1996). More recently it was the fate of a group of Beech in Ireland that precipitated Thomas Pakenham’s series of photo-essays on ‘Remarkable Trees’ at home and abroad (Pakenham 1996).
The species has a large native range, centred on central and western Europe where it can form extensive forests at lower elevations, blending into mixed coniferous forests and eventually giving way to conifers entirely at higher elevations. It is native to Scandinavia, at least in southern Sweden and south east Norway, and to Britain, having made it across just before the land bridge with continental Europe slipped beneath the waves. It extends east, to the north of the Black Sea as far as the mountains of the Crimea, and to the south-west it reaches the Pyrenees and the Cantabrian mountains of northern Spain (Tutin et al. (eds) 1993, Krüssmann 1984). To the south-east European Beech is native as far the Balkan peninsula, but here it blends into F. orientalis which extends from the eastern Balkans through Turkey, into the Caucasus, and hence to the Hyrcanian forests south of the Caspian in Iran. Hybrid forms occur where the two species meet (Kandemir & Kaya 2009, Davis 1984).
As with so many plants European Beech’s ‘nativeness’ becomes a contentious issue on the fringes of these areas, and the question generates excited debate. Ill-judged interventions have even led to mature beech woodlands being extirpated in Scotland on the grounds of non-nativeness (BBC News 2015), a rather illogical form of botanical xenophobia that is also prevalent in Ireland and Belgium where the Beech is an important element of landscape heritage, a factor that should never be overlooked.
The largest and oldest examples may be found safely away from Scotland, in the species’ heartland in western and central Europe. Various open-grown trees have attained enormous size here, for example at Gutspark, Hoppenrade, Germany (8.76 m girth in 2016); at Monte Limitaciones, Parque Natural de Urbasa y Andía, Aranaratxe, Spain (7.14 m girth in 2016); at Schlosspark, Laxenburg, Austria (7 m girth in 2014); and at Château Le Kinnor, Calvados, France (6.7 m girth in 2012). The tallest examples recorded anywhere are in Germany. A tree growing in woods east of Burg Ronneburg, Gründau, Hesse, was 49.2 m when measured in 2014. Several others only slightly shorter grow in the same woods. In Kalná Roztoka, Prešov, Slovakia, trees have recently been recorded to 47 and 48.3 m. Various other examples exceeding 45 m are known from Austria, France, and Belgium (monumentaltrees.com 2019). It is likely that many more comparable examples will be discovered in central Europe over the coming years.
Alan Mitchell, that great measurer of trees, cautioned against the generation of extensive and definitive lists of the tallest and widest examples in the UK and Ireland given that Beech isn’t an especially long-lived tree there – 250 to 300 years is good going – and when older than 200 years trees are liable to die suddenly without much warning: “Unlike the oak, which takes an inordinate time to die, the beech does it over a weekend” (Mitchell 1996). This being the case, ‘champion’ status is likely to move from tree to tree regularly, particularly as a large generation of trees planted in the UK and Ireland 200-250 years ago reaches senescence. Nevertheless, it is worth commenting on some remarkable trees that have been recorded in the past, and a small selection of the very best known today.
The tallest example cited by Bean was a tree that had grown in a woodland environment in Ashridge Park, Buckinghamshire, and was known as the ‘Queen Beech’. It was measured by Loudon and later by Elwes & Henry, between these two observations it was found to be 39 – 42 m tall (130 – 140 ft) (Bean 1981). In 1982 a tree growing in the woods at Beaufront Castle, Northumberland, was measured by Alan Mitchell and found to be 43.9 m (144 ft) tall, but this has not been re-measured in recent years (Tree Register 2019). More recently eleven British trees have been found exceeding 40 m. One at Willsersley Castle, Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, was measured at 45 m tall in 2018 - the tallest ever record for the species in the UK and Ireland. Another tree nearby was 44.2 m. Other trees exceeding 40 m include: Newtimber Holt Wood, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, 44 m in 2015; Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, 43.5 m in 2015; Workman’s Wood, Ebworth, Gloucestershire, 42 m in 2018; Duncombe Park, North Yorkshire, 41 m in 2013; Yester House, East Lothian, 40 – 41 m in 2016; Lowther Park, Cumbria, 40 m in 2013; Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, 40 m in 2012; Knole Park, Kent, 40 m in 2014. (Tree Register 2019).
All these are examples of trees growing in woodland, or near-woodland environments, hence the trees have been drawn up and have attained great height. Various commentators over the years have distinguished between this sort of Beech and ones that have been grown in open situations, for example in parkland or on lawns. One of the most remarkable ever recorded in the latter category is a tree that grew at Newbattle, Midlothian, Scotland. Elwes (1906) described it as “the most remarkable, if not the largest, of all the Beeches of the spreading type now standing in Britain”. This enthusiastic commentary was on account of the lower branches of the tree having layered when they reached the lawn on which the tree grew. Over one hundred years later the original trunk has long since died and decayed, but the layered branches have taken root and a semi-circle of new Beech trees provide a tantalising link to the past (Rodger, Stokes, & Ogilvie 2006).
The Newbattle Beech was an open-grown tree on a single stem, but historically Beech have been pollarded in many parts of Europe and enormous Beech pollards may be found – the largest known so far is a gigantic mass at Plas Newydd, Llanfairpwll, Wales, which had a girth of 9.97 m when measured in 2016 (Tree Register 2019). Beech remains an important tree in European designed landscapes but was perhaps in the first tier of ornamental trees up until the late-19th century, when an influx of new species from around the world began to arrive in European collections. Before then the choice was limited, and the grandeur, adaptability, and variation of Beech rendered it extremely popular - both the wild type and the early cultivars were planted extensively.
Its usefulness as a hedging plant won it a further contingent of horticultural fans and it remains a favoured species for this purpose. Indeed the world’s longest and tallest clipped hedge is a Beech hedge adjacent to a public road running past the Meikleour estate in Perthshire; it is 530 m long and averages 30 m in height (Rodger, Stokes, & Ogilvie 2006). Thought to have been planted in about 1745 it was traditionally cut once a decade but has sadly been neglected in recent years. An increasing number of new cultivars were introduced from the mid-19th century onward. New selections continue to appear and there is now an extensive range widespread in the horticultural trade which offer a great deal of choice in habit, form, ultimate size, and foliage colour and texture. The most prevalent of these are discussed below.
It seems unlikely that the typical Beech will again enjoy the same levels of popularity it experienced in Britain and Ireland during the 17th - 19th centuries, unless the problem of Grey Squirrels can be solved and foresters once again plant Beech on a landscape scale (Hemery & Simblet 2014). Nevertheless, it is important when planting the wild type to select an appropriate provenance or ecotype for the purpose. It may be tempting to acquire hedging stock of Beech and to plant these as trees given such material is cheap, but hedging selections will not always form good trees. Elwes (1906) commented that the quality of native Beech woods in southern Britain had declined enormously by the early 20th century due to the felling of the best stands for timber, and the failure to leave sufficient quality stands to provide a future seed-source for trees of good form.
The variability of form, which we are consequently having to consider in contemporary plantings, may be one reason that Beech avenues are so rarely planted now – this, along with the irksome problem that modern planners and developers rarely leave enough room for trees with such extensive root systems. But Beech was often planted as an avenue tree in the distant past and surviving examples of fine beech avenues include Drummond Castle, Perthshire, where the long and narrow drive is lined with high-pruned, very closely planted Beech, and at Kingston Lacy, Dorset, where 731 Beech trees were planted to frame a newly built road in 1835. More recently the ‘dark hedges’ – an avenue of irregularly shaped, low-branched and spreading Beech in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland – has become famous after being used as location in the series Game of Thrones.
The exact date of the Beech’s introduction to North America is uncertain. McMurtrie (1982) casts doubt on the assumption that it would have been introduced prior to the 19th century, while Jacobson (1996) suggests it was introduced in or before 1752, though he offers no reference for this information. Whatever the date of introduction, European Beech (as we will briefly refer to it in order to distinguish it from the American Beech) would later become a valued ornamental in north-east North America, playing “an important role in the 19th century landscape movement…which brought the English landscape into American suburbs, ‘rural cemeteries’ and city parks” (McMurtrie 1982).
Both the wild type and early cultivars (particularly purple-leaved, but also cut-leaf and pendulous forms) became widely planted in the north-east USA and adjacent parts of Canada – south of Maryland it becomes increasingly unsuitable, struggling with the more intense summer heat of southerly latitudes – and today it remains a common and important ornamental tree in this area. It is interesting, but quite logical, that European Beech was so favoured over the native American Beech, which has a reputation to this day of being far less amenable in cultivation, prone as it is to suckering, and which does not offer the same range of variations in foliage colour, form, and habit (Sternberg 2004, Elias 1980). European Beech is also grown on the west coast of North America, and in other parts of the continent where neither summer heat nor winter cold are prohibitively intense. Over 20 varieties were planted at the Dominion Arboretum, Ottawa, between 1890 and 1900, but by 1980 only ‘Asplenifolia’ survived as a large shrub, 4.5 m tall, after having been irregularly killed back, sometimes to ground level, by particularly hard winters (Buckley 1980).
Elsewhere, (European) Beech is cultivated as an ornamental in almost every appropriate climatic zone, for example in temperate South America, in New Zealand, and in appropriate zones within South Africa and Australia. In South Africa, mature Purple Beech growing in Arderne Gardens, Cape Town, were in 2016-2017 succumbing to the intense and prolonged drought affecting that region (ardernegardens.org.za) and indeed intense summer droughts have been known to kill older, already stressed trees even within its native range (pers. obs.).
An introduction to the cultivars
Historically, different authors have described infraspecific taxa to cover naturally occurring variants that have since become very popular in horticulture. For example, in 1855 Loudon described var. heterophylla to cover cut-leaved forms, and the rank of forma has been afforded to many variants, including the purple-leaved forms (f. purpurea) and the pendulous forms (f. pendula) to name just two. In The World Checklist and Bibliography of Fagales all of these various varieties and forms have been reduced to synonymy (Govaerts & Frodin 1998). In strictly botanical terms they are irrelevant, but they describe attributes that are of horticultural significance (and such names remain available for use if wished). An alternative is to establish Cultivar Groups but these require clarity of definition and are challenging where a cultivar combines more than one character of interest.
Bean (1981) was probably the last authority to provide a meaningful and in-depth overview of the situation, treating similar clones together under botanical ranks, as does the contemporary author Larry Hatch in his authoritative account (Hatch 2017). Krüssman (1984) was comprehensive in his coverage of cultivars, but while he provided a brief outline which categorised them according to their morphological characters, he (wisely!) made no attempt to classify them: he simply lists the named clones alphabetically and describes each one, a system adopted here. It is clear, however, that a robust classification system for Beech cultivars is required.
Vernacular names often cause confusion, especially around ‘Purple Beech’ and ‘Copper Beech’ for variants with pigmented foliage. These all fall under f. purpurea (still used by the Tree Register of Britain and Ireland, for example (Tree Register 2019) or the inappropriately-named Atropurpurea Group adopted by the Royal Horticultural Society. Both options cover all pigmented, entire-leaved Beech, although leaf coloration in this group varies from a sort of muddy-brown-red through to the deep and vibrant purples of such clones as ‘Riversii’. Bean maintained the distinction and included the name ‘Cuprea’ for the Copper Beech “with leaves paler than in the true purple beech” under his discussion of f. purpurea (Bean 1981). Nowadays the horticultural trade (at least in the UK) seems rarely to uphold this distinction, and the vernacular names Purple and Copper Beech seem to be interchangeably applied to material sold under the names ‘Atropurpurea’, ‘Atropurpurea Group’, ‘Purpurea Group’, f. purpurea, var. purpurea, f. atropurpurea, etc. The name ‘Cuprea’ is rarely encountered, though distinctly copper seedlings frequently occur where green and purple parents grow together. Cultivars will be grafted and should show evidence of the graft union, where seedlings will not, in which case they should be referred to as f. purpurea, Atropupurea Group or Purple/Copper Beech according to taste.
Similarly the cut-leaved forms have been treated as infraspecific entities including var. heterophylla (a name still widely used today) and f. laciniata. Bean (1981) used f. laciniata, placed var. heterophylla into synonymy with it, and treated the widely grown ‘Asplenifolia’ as an independent entity (which it is). The f. laciniata described by Bean is now generally treated as ‘Laciniata’ (indeed he makes this point himself) but such combinations as F. s. f. laciniata ‘Asplenfiolia’, and F. s. var. heterophylla ‘Asplenifolia’ are still sometimes encountered.
Fagus sylvatica 'Albovariegata'
The leaves of this ultimately full-sized tree are margined white, but prone to reversion and not as stable as other variegated forms. There is confusion between this name and ‘Albovariegata’: several authors consider them synonymous, discussing one but not the other, for example Hillier & Coombes (2002) list ‘Albomarginata’ as a synonym of ‘Albovariegata’, which they suggest has been cultivated since 1770. (Hatch 2017, Krüssmann 1984).
This slow-growing, shrubby selection is presumed to be a hybrid between a purple-leaved Beech and some form of cut-leaved Beech. The leaves are lanceolate, with often lobed but otherwise entire margins, 1-2 cm wide, dark brown-red to purple in colour. It was raised by Ansorge at the Flottbeck nurseries in Hamburg in 1891 (Krüssmann 1984, Bean 1981). Hillier & Coombes (2002) call this “a remarkable form” and describe the leaf colour as “dark purple”.
Often listed under var. heterophylla the true Fern-leaved Beech is quite distinctive. It is one of the few cultivars that is generally full-sized in maturity and is a particularly beautiful form. Bean said “Of all the forms of Beech marked by differences in shape of leaf, this is the handsomest” (Bean 1981). It seems to have a reasonably traceable history as a clone, having first been offered by Loddige’s nursery in 1804 (Bean 1981), though possibly of continental origin.
The foliage is variable, the leaves distinctly lobed and incised, some lobes being relatively shallow and others penetrating the leaf blade almost to the midrib. Crucially, they are rarely symmetrical, and in this they differ from the very regular leaves of ‘Lacinata’. ‘Asplenifolia’ also differs in having at least some leaves toward the tips of most branchlets nearly linear, sometimes to 10 x 0.6 cm, a feature almost never seen in ‘Laciniata’. Old trees are remarkably uniform in character and are likely to represent a single clone, or at least a very small number of remarkably similar clones. They tend to be slow growing when young but become more vigorous when properly established. Young shoots are usually slightly ascendant, and both in summer and winter this helps to mark ‘Asplenifolia’ out from a distance, though in summer the narrow leaves give a tree a very soft appearance that makes it easily recognisable. As with many such selections reversion does occur from time to time, but usually on a small scale which can be easily managed (Hatch 2017, Krüssmann 1984).
‘Asplenifolia’ would seem to be a particularly hardy form. 20 different varieties of Beech were planted at the Dominion Arboretum in Ottawa, Canada, between 1890 and 1900, but by 1980 only a shrubby example of ‘Asplenifolia’ remained (Buckley 1980).
Golden Weeping Beech
As the name suggests this is the yellow-leaved form of ‘Pendula’ – the Weeping Beech – though much slower growing and ultimately not as large as that form. The main trunk is usually erect, with branches either partly outspread or weeping. The young leaves are yellow or strongly yellow-green, becoming greener, but not entirely green, with age. If placed where it can be seen with the light behind it this is an exquisitely beautiful plant, glowing gold. It is susceptible to scorching in full-sun, but if placed in too-deep shade the yellow colouration is diluted and the plant appears more or less green. It arose as a bud sport in the nursery of J.G. van der Bom in the Netherlands in c. 1900. It remains relatively rare in cultivation, especially in North America where it wasn’t introduced until the 1950s. (Jacobson 1996, Krüssmann 1984, Bean 1981).
This French selection makes a small tree with very pendulous branches, often reaching the ground forming a densely-leaved cone. The original tree grew in a garden near the church at Borny in France and is believed to have come from a neighbouring forest having been “discovered about 1870” (Krüssmann 1984). It was propagated and distributed by the firm Simon-Louis Frères at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In his original work Bean (1981) states that the largest example at Kew came from that firm in 1900, however the current TROBI champion is a 5 m tree, also at Kew, with a given planting date of 1897 – perhaps a separate tree to the one Bean discussed. Jacobson (1996) says it has been cultivated in North America since at least 1895 but points out that it is probably regularly mis-sold as ‘Pendula’.
Every so often when one compares the descriptions of a horticultural selection by two different but highly respected authors, it can seem as though they are describing two different plants. This is the sensation that occurs when one compares Bean’s description of ‘Cochleata’ with that of Krüssmann. Citing Loudon, Bean states that this was in the trade (in Britain) since before 1842, while Krüssmann, from his perspective, states it has been known in Germany since 1864. If the clone arose in Britain and was later exported this would make sense. Bean describes it as having “Leaves concave beneath, broadest above the middle tapering to an acute base; margins with small, pointed, slightly toothed lobules, best developed near the apex”. Krüssmann offers “Dwarf form, compact conical habit, slow grower, scarcely over 4-5 m high and 3 m wide; leaves elliptic, 3-4 cm long, deeply toothed, margins usually undulate, blade often somewhat plaited”. (Krüssmann 1984, Bean 1981).
TROBI lists a specimen, 12 m tall in 2017, growing in the cemetery in Ramsgate, Kent. Owen Johnson’s note reads “Crimped dense habit like ‘Aspleniifolia’; small much folded leaves, some with big teeth near the tip. No visible graft; perhaps a sport?” (Tree Register 2019). This is closer to Bean’s description.
Cock's Comb Beech
Fagus sylvatica 'Conglomerata'
Fagus sylvatica 'Crispa'
Fagus sylvatica 'Cucullata'
Fagus sylvatica 'Monstruosa'
A fast-growing tree, in commerce in Britain since 1836 where examples approaching 30 m tall are known. Very shortly-stalked leaves usually clustered at the branch tips, coarsely triangular-toothed, crumpled, and decurved at the apex (Bean 1981). “Usually cockscomb like, incised and deformed” (Krüssmann 1984). It isn’t for everyone, Hatch (2017) calls it “frightfully ugly” and many would agree. Jacobson (1996) suggests it has been in commerce in North America since before 1903, but that it remains very rare there. He also lists several synonyms which are given here. There is a purple-leaved form called ‘Brathay Purple’.
This well known and widely grown selection is named for the Scottish estate where it was first found. Since the late 17th century Dawyck (Daw as in Dawson, yck as in wick) has been one of the great arboreta of the UK and Ireland, benefitting from the passionate dendrological interest of three different families, before passing to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1978.
The Dawyck Beech has much in common with the Irish Yew (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’). Both were discovered in woods, or in consignments of saplings destined for woods. Both are remarkable for their strongly fastigiate habit, at least when young. Both were discovered by a keen-eyed forester, both were liberated from their woodland fate and brought down to the ‘big house’ where they were planted in a more ornamental setting, and both have since become ubiquitous in ornamental horticulture throughout the temperate zones of the world. The ‘discovery’ is believed to have taken place in the early 19th century, when Dawyck was owned by the Nasmyth family. The original tree still stands to the rear of the main house (still in private ownership) on the boundary with the Botanic Garden.
According to Bean it wasn’t until the early 20th century, after the property had passed into the ownership of the Balfour family, that scion material was distributed to other major collections in c. 1907. One recipient of material was a Herr Hesse of Weener, Hannover “and it was he who first described the Dawyck beech in 1912 and his firm that first distributed it commercially” (Bean 1981). It quickly became widespread, being introduced to North America by the 1930s (Jacobson 1996) and to other temperate zones over the following years.
As a young tree ‘Dawyck’ is narrowly upright, and although it broadens slightly with age, it generally retains its distinctive conical-columnar profile. Mature trees may attain c. 30 m height with a canopy spread of only a few meters. There is, inevitably, some confusion between ‘Dawyck’ and another earlier fastigiate clone, ‘Fastigiata’. It would appear that ‘Fastigiata’, possibly never widely grown anyway, fell into obscurity after ‘Dawyck’ was introduced to the trade. Whether this is because ‘Dawyck’ was a superior clone, or simply because it enjoyed better marketing, is not known. Most authors now consider ‘Fastigiata’ a synonym of ‘Dawyck’, although it arose independently in Germany in about 1864 (a date that Krüssmann erroneously assigns to ‘Dawyck’). The French firm Simon-Louis Frères were propagating ‘Fastigiata’ in 1873, but Krüssmann speculated that it was no longer in cultivation (Krüssmann 1984).
More recently, several other fastigiate Beeches have been introduced to the trade, notably F. orientalis ‘Iskander’. While it is too early to take a long-term view of its merits early indications are that it is more heat-tolerant than ‘Dawyck’, which may prove a useful trait in the future. ‘Callista’ is described as a dwarf form of ‘Dawyck’, and ‘Dawyck’ itself has been used in the creation of new hybrids, for example ‘Rohan Obelisk’.
The leaves of this cultivar are broadly elliptic, somewhat concave, with regularly dentate, coarse margins with angular teeth. It is more shallowly lobed than ‘Lacinata’ and Hatch (2017) suggests it is “not a popular cultivar for it does not stand out much”. Indeed his illustration proves his point. It was discovered in Germany in c. 1810. Bean suspected it to be a branch sport of ‘Asplenifolia’ although ‘Lacinata’ is another possiblity (Krüssmann 1984).
Strictly speaking this clone belongs to the ‘Pendula Group’ of cultivars. In his discussion of forma pendula (see under ‘Pendula’ below) Bean provides an overview of three of the several forms of Weeping Beech, and ‘Miltonensis’ would seem to belong to his second informal group: “also known as F. s. pendula, which is perhaps commoner on the continent than here. It is quite distinct from the tent-like clone, being slender in habit with the main branches pendent. This seems to be the F. s. pendula of Kirchner, of which there were already old trees in Germany when he described it in 1864” (Bean 1981).
‘Miltonensis’ sensu stricto was discovered in Milton Park, Northamptonshire, UK, in or before 1837, but was not introduced to the trade until about 1899 (Hatch 2017). As Jacobson (1996) speculates and as Bean (1981) testifies, several ‘imposters’ have been sold under this name over the years, but the original tree certainly adheres to the Bean description given above. Bean treats this clone as distinct from ‘Pendula’ presumably on account of how exaggeratedly pendulous it is, but points out that material distributed under this name from German nurseries in the 1860s was incorrect. We may assume that the introduction of incorrectly named clones both within Europe and to North America has blurred the picture, but thanks to well documented descriptions, it ought to be relatively straightforward to identify at least some of the imposters.
A purple-leaved form of ‘Pendula’, neither growing as large as that cultivar nor matching its vigour, but nevertheless capable of growing into a striking small tree (Bean speculated that the name should be appended with the word ‘nana’). In the UK and Ireland the tallest example known is only 5 m tall, growing in the grounds of Bristol Zoo (Tree Register 2019). It is often top-grafted to form a mushroom-headed tree. Introduced c. 1865. (Hillier & Coombes 2002).
Variegated Purple Beech
Fagus sylvatica 'Roseomarginata'
A somewhat variable clone with carmine-red coloured young foliage deepening to purple after several weeks. In some instances trees seem to hold this purple colour reasonably well, while in others it reportedly fades over the course of the growing season to bronze-green, but always with a distinct, often wide, pink or pale-pink margin to the leaf blades. Krussman’s suggestion that it “only occasionally [grows] to 10 m high” would seem to be erroneous: Jacobson (1996) refers to an individual c. 30 m tall growing at Balaine, near Villeneuve sur Allier, France, in 1973, and another of c. 27 m tall growing at Port Coquitlam, British Colombia, in 1994. The Tree Register of Britain and Ireland records the tallest currently known in this area as a 29.5 m tree (when last measured in 2016) growing at Stourhead, Wiltshire, and various others exceeding 20 m height across Britain (Tree Register 2019).
Its exact origins are something of a mystery, as it seems to have arisen “almost simultaneously in France and Holland, and to have been first propagated in quantity by Transon’s nursery, Orleans, who first exhibited it in 1885” (Bean 1981). Bean adds that “A similar or perhaps identical beech was exhibited by Messrs Cripps in 1888 as F. s. roseomarginata”, while Jacobson (1996) suggests it originated “in 1880 in Germany”. He adds that it was introduced to commerce in North America no later than 1891 where it is still common.
Krüssmann (1984) records that this purple, cut-leaf clone arose “in 1894 [Bean gives 1888] as a cross between a purple beech x ‘Quercifolia’ [syn. ‘Laciniata’]” made by the garden superintendent V. Mašek on the estate of Prince Camille de Rohan of Sichrow in Bohemia. After the Prince’s death Mašek set up his own nursery in nearby Turnau, and his son introduced the new cross to commercial horticulture in 1898. The combination of the cut leaf of the ‘Laciniata’ parent and the purple colouration is very effective and indeed ‘Rohanii’ is capable of forming a tree of singular beauty, although according to Bean it wasn’t all that popular at first, and as commentators such as Jacobson (1996) point out, it is likely to be eclipsed by other members of the ‘Rohan series’ of cultivars that have been bred in recent decades.
Nevertheless it can be deployed very effectively in gardens in the company of flowering shrubs and small trees, such as Deutzia, Philadelphus, Styrax, selections of Acer palmatum, and smaller growing conifers, as it has been in Glyn and Gail Church’s garden near New Plymouth in New Zealand. Although we are yet to see this selection meet the ultimate size of the species, it has reached 18 x 0.8 m at the Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey, UK (Tree Register 2019).
Similar to ‘Cockleshell’ in having rounded leaves, said to differ in their larger size (to 3.5 cm wide) and in usually having a greater number of lateral vein pairs (usually 4). It was discovered, propagated and distributed by Jackman of Woking, Surrey, in the 1870s (Krüssmann 1984). The tallest and largest known in the UK and Ireland are two separate trees at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, which were 23 m x 0.54 m dbh (planted 1929), and 20 m x 0.79 m dbh (planted 1939) when both were last measured in 2014 (Tree Register 2019). Bean (1981) said it was “perhaps the daintiest of beech varieties” (presumably he was speaking in terms of foliage) but that was before the arrival of ‘Cockleshell’ which is arguably daintier still.
This rare selection was known in France before 1870, where it was introduced to the trade by Simon-Louis Frères of Metz. Krüssmann described it thus: “Leaves nearly white, green punctate, margin pink…Not very viable and therefore rare; presumably no longer cultivated” (Krüssmann 1984). Bean said that “According to Jouin, the manager of [Simon-Louis Frères’s] tree and shrub nursery, it was not vigorous and had small leaves that burnt in the sun and were rose-edged when young, the margin later becoming white. He seems to have had no high opinion of it and cautioned that it should not be confused with F. s. purpurea tricolor [sic] (as in fact it has been)” (Bean 1981). Confusion between these two clones would seem to perpetuate to the present day, and as both Bean and Krussman eluded, trees labelled simply as ‘Tricolor’ are likely to actually belong to ‘Purpurea Tricolor’.
This slow-growing but ultimately full-sized selection has very glossy leaves which are yellow-green at first, becoming greener with age and eventually barely differing from the type. It was discovered in 1890 in the wild near Vranja, Serbia, which along with some of its morphological traits has fuelled speculation that it is derived from the hybrid F. x taurica. Späth later introduced it to the trade in 1892. The name ‘Zlatia’ is derived from the Serbian word “zlato” meaning “gold”, but the leaf colouration could not reasonably be described as golden. (Krüssmann 1984, Bean 1981).