Features and characters of the individual
Beech trees: facts and stories
The fruit produced by beech trees are called beechnuts (also known as beech mast), and they look like small triangular chestnuts. They contain an edible seed that can be harvested in early autumn. Just like with chestnuts, these seeds should be soaked and then roasted before eating them. It takes a lot of patience to peel off the thin, toxic film that is wrapped around each seed. The seeds can be delicious, but you shouldn’t eat too many.
Today, more and more restaurants and chefs are preparing dishes with foraged ingredients from wild plants. Foragers and chefs are always happy to share whatever they’ve found! Beech nuts can be made into an oil as well, while very young beech leaves can also be used to spice up salads and/or pesto to add a slightly tangy flavour.
Did you know?
Beech trees are tall trees that dominate our forests. Their giant trunks soar up into the sky like columns. Their first branches are often 10m off the ground or even higher. These trees grow as high as possible into the sky so that their foliage can bask in as much sunlight as possible.
Their leaves are incredibly well arranged, allowing them to capture even the slightest hint of sunlight. Using the sun’s energy, the tree makes its own food that it needs to thrive.
Tall beech trees are able to combine their foliage with their neighbours to create a thick canopy that filters the sun’s rays. This acts like a huge sunshade, protecting younger beech trees underneath from being scorched in strong sunlight. Only around 3–5% of the sun’s light makes it through the canopy.
So, how do the younger beech trees manage to produce enough food for themselves? The larger beech trees share nutrients and food with their younger relatives through their roots, forming a cooperative community. The mastery of sunlight filtering combined with this amazing system of exchange via the roots helps to ensure future generations of beech for this tree community.
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 pair of trees
When you turn the corner from Chaussée de Waterloo into Rue Renier Chalon, you can already see this pair of trees in the distance. They can also be seen from the far end of Rue Léon Jouret. For children on their way to Plaine de Jeux Renier Chalon, these trees are a sign that they are nearly there!
These beech trees are positioned like two benevolent guardians at the playground’s main entrance. Their branches reach over the top of the railings. Forming a small tunnel with their foliage, these trees encourage everyone who passes underneath them to switch their mood to one of relaxation and letting loose. Light can be seen at the end of this tunnel, with parents chatting on benches and children running around playing games.
From the moment you enter the park, these trees set the tone and mood. Bringing a touch of green to the playground, they make the space look particularly inviting. Without these two beech trees, the playground would look more like an open expanse of sand and tarmac, planted with only a few smaller trees. This would be much less welcoming, and also very hot in the summer months.
Trees don’t have to be gigantic to be considered remarkable trees; sometimes, it’s more important that they have a prominent role in shaping a neighbourhood’s atmosphere and the urban landscape.
(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