Features and characters of the individual
Facts and stories
If oak trees are the kings of the forests, then beech trees are the queens.
This tree’s trunk stands straight and strong, soaring into the sky with a powerful appearance. And yet, this tree with its high crown and majestic air is associated with femininity. Its bark is smooth and sensitive, like soft skin. Its flexible leaves have small silky eyelashes.
This tree also ‘mothers’ its young, shading them to protect them from burning in the sun. By reducing light levels on the ground around it, this tree also protects its young from competition from other tree species (ones that can’t grow in this much shade).
A parent beech tree will nourish younger beech saplings via its roots for many years. Some ‘young’ beech trees can therefore live for more than 100 years in the care of their parent tree. They wait patiently for the moment when they can finally soar into the sky.
Did you know?
Beech trees are a little like water towers, with their large foliage catching as much rain as possible. The leaves and branches are positioned and inclined in such a precise way that all the water runs down to the tree’s base.
The water droplets slide down the tree’s smooth bark all the way to the roots. On its way down, the water sometimes pools in small cavities between branches or in small basins formed by the roots. These prove to be useful reservoirs for birds.
When these overflow, the water continues down on its path over the roots and into the soil. This enables beech trees to provide water for their young saplings growing around them. This also provides moisture for a multitude of microorganisms living in the ground, who offer valuable services to the trees in return.
Beech trees can be recognised on rainy days by the large, dark green trails of moisture on their bark. They’re good for sheltering under when it’s raining – just don’t lean against the wet trunk!
The benefits of beech trees
These trees have very dense, abundant foliage that provides large amounts of oxygen. By producing pure, new oxygen, they purify the air in a way that is beneficial for human lungs. The leaves also filter fine particles from the air quite well, as well as filtering large amounts of air pollution. They are particularly effective at absorbing CO2, the greenhouse gas famously responsible for global warming, which gets stored in the wood as a form of carbon. The shade that these trees cast is also particularly efficient at cooling the surrounding air.
Beech trees are the most common species in the Sonian Forest, which functions as a vast green lung, air filter and air conditioner for the city of Brussels.
How to recognise a common beech
oval-shaped, with softly waving edges (undulate); small, soft eyelashes on younger leaves
soft green in spring; shiny dark green in summer; orangey brown in autumn; and still visible for part of winter (marcescence)
beech nuts, spiky shells with dark brown triangular seeds inside
long, hard, very pointed, with scales, and brown/ochre in colour; clearly visible during winter
Specifics about this tree
It’s impossible to walk past this beech tree without taking notice of it. To start, its silvery grey bark stands out between the two green hedges. Then, there is its strikingly large, stocky base. Its roots appear to be quite strong. You could imagine them reaching deep down into the soil, but that is not actually the case here.
In reality, this green giant is planted on top of clay, so it grows lots of roots just around the surface, perhaps 10cm under our own feet. These roots are fragile, and are highly sensitive to soil being compacted by people walking at the foot of the tree. Once the soil around these roots gets too compacted, the tree will find it difficult to breathe. This tree can’t stand having its roots trampled upon.
To appreciate this tree, take a few steps back and give it space. Its long, bare trunk soars straight up into the sky, inviting you to look upwards. You might have to bend your neck right back to see the branches and foliage right at the top. You could also stand further back and use some binoculars. If you prefer, you can browse the images below instead – it might help to avoid a stiff neck!
Along with oak trees, beech trees are some of the most common trees in our forests. They sometimes form a real colonnade of trees supporting huge vaults of leaves. So much so that the phrase ‘hêtraie cathédrale’ (cathedral of beech trees) is used in French to describe the Sonian Forest. This spectacle can be seen only a few tram stops away!
(Story and photos created by Priscille Cazin- Sylvolutions)
This portrait is:
- Enriched with an illustration from the Belgian Federal State Collection on permanent loan to the Meise Botanical Garden.
- An initiative of Christos Doulkeridis, Mayor of Ixelles , Audrey Lhoest, portfolio holder for Environment, Green Spaces and Planting, and Tourism and the Ixelles Communal executive