The Purple leaf beach (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’) is an cultivar of the European beech with deep purple leaves in the spring which fade to green-purple during the summer. Compared to the American beech, the European beech has smaller leaves (8 – 9 veins), but similar darker gray bark, and wavy untoothed margins on the leaves. It grows into a tall tree with an oval spreading crown. The tree likes a moist soil and is somewhat tolerant of heat. Beechnuts are triangular and encased in spiny husks. The wood of beech trees is used for furniture, especially chairs since it bends well without breaking and has a fine grain with relatively few knots. Beech ash was mentioned in the Middle ages as an important ingredient in the manufacturing of glass. Pigs and deer were allowed to feed on fallen beech nuts. In France the nuts were used to fatten poultry, especially turkey. Oil from pressed ripe nuts was used for cooking and lamp lighting.
Common name: Purple leaf beech, Copper Beech
Scientific Name (family and order): Fagus sylvatica (Fagaceae, Fagales)
Species Origin: Europe
New Jersey Status: USDA Unreported
Habit: Large tree 50 – 60’ high x 35 – 45’ wide. Tends to branch close to the ground. Dense, upright, oval character when young.
Habitat: Zones 4 -7. Shade tolerant; climax species.
Trunk/Stem: Bark smooth gray similar to F. grandifolia.
Leaves: Deciduous; Simple; Alternate. Ovate to elliptic, 2 -4 “long x 1 ½ to 2 ½ “ wide. Tip acute, base broad cuneate or rounded margin undulate entire or obscurely toothed. Adaxial blade lustrous, dark green to purple; abaxial blade green to purple; glabrous at maturity. Five to nine pinnate veins. Petiole ¼” long and downy.
Flowers: Monoecious. Flowers lack petals, male and female flowers on separate sites of same tree. Staminate (male) flowers are pendulous and held in globose heads; pistillate flowers are held in a 2 -4 flowered spike.
Fruits and seeds: The fruit is a 4-lobed husk with hooked prickles, ¾” long. The husk opens at maturity to reveal 2 small nuts. The nut is edible.