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Fagus sylvatica

Fagus sylvatica Atropurpurea-Group - copper or purple beech

Fagus sylvatica 'Atropunicea' ©CTheqvist


There are several named red-leaf varieties of the common or European beech, and the nomenclature can be quite confusing, but typically they include the word “purpurea” in some form or other. These coppery or red leaved varieties are said to have originated from a tree found in Thüringen in Germany in the 1700s, and plants started to appear in nursery catalogues in the early 1800s. They can also be grown from seed, when the colour of the leaves varies; depending on the variety, their redness can remain the same throughout the summer or can almost totally disappear, giving way to green. However, the colour is usually at its showy best when leaves break, and again in autumn before leaf fall.

Copper beech develops into a large tree with a round crown, requiring lots of room and living for perhaps hundreds of years, so it isn’t really suited to small gardens. In Finland it has proved fairly hardy on the south coast, perhaps due to its continental origin.


Fagus sylvatica - beech, common beech, European beech



Mustila’s Alppiruusulaakso (Rhododendron Valley) provides a hint of the feeling in a true beech forest. In the Valley’s warm rich soil and protected by other trees there is a single large beech and a couple of younger trees in much better condition than the specimens on Etelärinne (Southern slope), where they freeze down to snow level in cold winters.

Beeches are at their best in spring, when a magical green light filters through the young leaves, and again in October in their copper and bronze autumn colour. Traditionally, hardy beech provenances have been sought from the northernmost parts of their range in Sweden. But since the 2005 Mustila seed-collecting expedition to Slovakia, the Arboretum has looked for hardy provenances from eastern Europe’s mountain ranges, where the species is known to tolerate temperatures down to -40C in places. ‍


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