June 2004
Purple European Beech
Trunk like an elephant leg.


Detailed Facts
Julie's Trees

Facts at a Glance
Fagus sylvatica

Planting date unknown
Planting height: unknown
Planting trunk: unknown

Mature Height: to 100'
Spread: 40 to 60'
Growth rate: Slow
Form: Broad, round
Flowers: Inconspicuous
Fall color: Copper
Hardiness zone: 4 - 7
Culture: Sun

Best feature:
Purple leaves, majestic crown

Worst problem:
Hard to transplant

Do over? Yes

Still Crying At the Senselessness of It All

Careless Construction May Be the Death of This Tree


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A Tree Grower's Diary
Purple European Beech


Photographs and text by Julie Walton Shaver

Purple ovate leaves

Wrinkly gray trunk

Key identifying features.. Purple ovate leaves with v-shaped veins; gray, wrinkly bark.

Common name.. Purple European Beech

Scientific name.. Fagus sylvatica

Mature height.. To 100 feet

Mature spread.. 40 to 60 feet

Form.. Oval, round, broad, symmetrical canopy with branches that naturally sweep the ground. This is a large, majestic tree suitable for very large landscapes, arguably the best speciman available in North America, but is not suited for residential yards or near streets.

Fruit.. Oval, dry, hard brown nut, to 1 inch in length attracts birds and is suited for human consumption. It poses no significant litter problem.

Flowers.. Inconspicuous flowers in spring.

Bradley and Gregory at the trunk, for scale

Foliage.. Deciduous; purple or red in spring, deeping through summer to copper and showy in fall. Leaves are alternate, simple, ovate with pinnate veins.

Growth rate.. Slow, less than 1 foot a year.

Hardiness zones.. 4 through 7

Culture.. Full sun in a moist, well-drained location

Best time to prune.. (Still researching this one...)

Of special note.. This is such a large, majestic tree that it should not be used in residential plantings or as a street tree. Its natural shape requires the branches to droop to the ground as far as 60 feet out at maturity. This tree needs space! For a narrow cultivar, see 'Dawyck' Purple Beech.


Julie's Comments.. I first noticed this tree when I moved into my house in 1996 and realized there was a majestic tree in my midst, only a few hundred yards from my backyard, on East Chestnut Street in Metuchen. She was so tall, I could see her from any place in my yard, from any north- or east-facing window in my house, and from just about any place in town. Her purple leaves were stunning. Her 13-foot trunk of wrinkly gray bark compelled me to imagine what secrets she held beneath her folds. She had to have been well over a hundred years old. This was my all-time favorite tree. And I cry everytime I think of how she met her demise.

I am consoled somewhat by the fact that there is another majestic beech at Borough Hall, which I am following in the hopes that by some miracle, she doesn't succomb to construction damage when the old municipal building was torn down, and the new one put up in 2004-05.

Borough Hall: This tree says, "Strong."

Planting date.. This information is unknown, but I am researching to see if I might find any answers at the Metuchen Public Library. As I find out information, you can bet I'll post it here!

DO OVER?.. Yes.


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