Copper beech grows to a height of more than 40m. The bark is smooth, thin and grey, often with slight horizontal etchings.
The twigs are slender and grey but not straight – their shape resembles a zig-zag. Torpedo-shaped leaf buds are coppery and up to 2cm in length, with a distinctive criss-cross pattern.
The leaves are coppery to deep purple in colour, oval and fringed with silky brown hairs.
Beech is monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers grow on the same tree – just different parts. In April and May the copper beech’s tassel-like male catkins hang from long stalks at the end of twigs, while female flowers grow in pairs, surrounded by a cup.
Once wind pollinated, this cup becomes woody and encloses one or two reddish brown beech nuts (known as beechmast).
Copper beech is classified as native in the south of England and non-native in the north. Changing climatic conditions have put beech populations in southern England under increased stress and while it may not be possible to maintain the current levels of beech in some sites it is thought that conditions for beech in north-west England may improve.
Beech copper has several preferred habitat traits, including a humid atmosphere and well-drained soil. It prefers fertile calcified or lightly acidic ground and is often found on the side of hills.
It is widely grown as an ornamental tree for its distinctive purple leaves. As a cultivar it has no natural range, but shares many characteristics with common beech.
As with common beech, the foliage of copper beech is eaten by the caterpillars of a number of moths, including the barred hook-tip, clay triple-lines and olive crescent. The seeds are eaten by mice, voles, squirrels and birds.
Because beech trees live for so long they provide habitats for many deadwood specialists such as hole-nesting birds and wood-boring insects. The bark is often home to a variety of fungi, mosses and lichens.
Like common beech, copper beech timber is used for a variety of purposes, including fuel, furniture, cooking utensils, tool handles and sports equipment. The wood burns well and was traditionally used to smoke herring. The edible nuts, or masts, were once used to feed pigs, and in France they are still sometimes roasted and used as a coffee substitute.
Beech makes a popular hedging plant. If clipped it doesn’t shed its leaves, and provides a year-round dense screen, which provides a great habitat for garden birds.
Beech trees are sometimes susceptible to root rot from a variety of fungal pathogens, including Phytophthora. Some trees can suffer from beech bark disease, caused by a combination of a sap-sucking scale insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga) and canker fungus (Nectria coccinea). Severe infestations can kill affected trees. It is also very vulnerable to bark stripping by grey squirrels
===Other common names===
Purple leaved beech
Species: sylvatica f.purpurea
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