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There are about ten species of Beech trees worldwide in the northern hemisphere, but the best known are the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and the European Beech (Fagus sylvatica). Both are used ornamentally and for firewood and timber, but there are many more European Beech cultivars available than of the American Beech. These cultivars range from large trees to dwarf, and columnar or weeping trees to globose shrubs with a variety of leaf shapes and colors. «Aurea Pendua» is a beautiful weeping beech with golden-yellow leaves. «Dawyck Purple» is a dark purple variety with an upright, columnar form, perfect for an entrance or as a street tree. «Franken» and «Nicole» are variegated, «Marmorata» displays splashes of white, and «Striata» has unique, striped leaves. «Mercedes» is an interesting dwarf beech that has narrow, willow-like leaves. «Skzrat» and «Cochleata» are also dwarf shrubs that do well in smaller properties.
Since beech branches grow low to the ground on the trunk, they can be sheared and trained into an attractive, dense hedge. The leaves of most varieties turn to a beautiful copper or yellow-gold color in the fall, and they typically hold onto their leaves through the winter, which provides year-round interest and privacy.
European Beeches are native to Central and Western Europe, and have been used for centuries in parks and gardens as shade trees, entrance or street trees, and hedges. They arrived in America in the 1700s, and have become more widely used ornamental trees than American Beeches because of their better adaptation to various soil types and better ease of transplanting. European beeches thrive in a variety of well-draining soils, but are not tolerant of wet, compressed soil or urban pollution. They grow in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8, in full sun to partial shade.