Features and characters of the individual
Beech trees: facts and stories
There was a time when the beech tree was considered the tree of Mother Earth. Beech trees have been associated with Eurynome, the creator of the world. In the early days of Ancient Greece, priests took guidance from beech trees, hearing messages in the rustle of their leaves. They are a symbol of femininity in several cultures, and also represent knowledge, wisdom, patience and creation. For example, for the Celts, beech trees were dedicated to Belisama, a goddess related to community and the home, while some Nordic cultures linked them with Hertha, the goddess of Mother Earth. All kinds of popular beliefs and superstitions exist related to these trees. One such belief that has existed since the Middle Ages is that fairies take shelter in the shade of beech trees, dancing under their foliage where nothing else can grow (apart from more beech trees). These fairies are therefore said to protect beech trees.
Did you know?
All beech trees have a reddish colour to them, but it is actually a temporary colouring. It comes from very young leaves when each bud opens. The colour is due to pigments called anthocyanins, which protect delicate new leaves from the sun’s rays. When the leaves no longer need this protection, an enzyme in the leaves breaks down these red pigments.
In copper beech trees, though, the red colour doesn’t disappear and is present until the leaves eventually fall off. The colours can range from bright red, to pinky green, to purply brown. This happens because of a genetic anomaly, whereby the tree doesn’t have the enzyme needed to break down the red pigments.
‘Errors’ like this are quite rare in nature, but copper beech trees are quite common in the city because humans, attracted to their rarity, sought to reproduce this anomaly. In doing so, they aimed to achieve the most intense colourings that they could. This research led to many of the specimens seen in parks today.
The benefits of copper beech trees
Copper beech trees are planted in parks, and sometimes also in large public squares, for their decorative effect. They play an important role in the design of large green spaces.
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 beech tree
oval-shaped, with softly waving edges (undulate); small, soft eyelashes on younger leaves
red in spring; shiny dark purple 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
Even back in the 1930s, this copper beech was already a tall specimen. At that time, it was surrounded by other trees. If we could have climbed up to the top of this copper beech back then, we would have been able to admire views over the surrounding countryside. The wooded area that it is part of used to be right in the middle of fields and cultivated plots of land. This countryside landscape was slowly eaten into between 1987 and 1996, but the wooded area was kept.
This giant specimen is a central part of the wood. With huge branches forming two V-shapes, firmly attached to a huge trunk, this tree receives some of the most attention from visitors. Its huge crown and dense foliage overlook a large part of the dog park.
This tree requires special measures to look after it, as the park has seen increasing numbers of visitors and the tree has been weakened as a result. The soil around its base has become compacted and is eroding away. The area at its base has been cordoned off to limit trampling of the soil and prevent further exposure of the tree’s roots. The roots prefer loose soil with air and water circulating more freely.
Since cordoning off this area, the tree’s leaves fall from the crown and gather on the ground (as they would naturally in a forest). These leaves then decompose and transform into rich, nutrient-rich humus. Over time, this will help the tree regain its strength, and its lifespan will be extended. Some of its seeds can also germinate in this cordoned off section too, enabling its descendants to grow and helping the circle of life to continue.
(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