Although not native to Scotland, the beech - or Fagus sylvatica in Latin – is a common tree across much of Europe. It's thought beech trees arrived on our shores during the Bronze Age.
In Scotland, you’ll find several beech trees of note dotted across the central belt. This deciduous species favours chalk downlands, but can also grow well on light soils, and its dense shade usually keeps the forest floor clear of undergrowth.
Facts about beech trees
Use: Beech wood is easily turned, fine-grained and knot-free, making it ideal for furniture making, especially for chairs. In the past the wood was used for rifle butts, brush backs and for making shoe heels and lasts.
Leaves: Green in spring and summer, then in autumn they turn first to yellow then to bronze.
Seeds: The husks split to release two triangular seeds, ‘nuts’ or ‘mast’ and can be eaten. The French roast them to make a type of coffee.
Bark: Smooth, grey and delicate – making it a popular tree for lovers to carve their initials into.
Height: Beech can grow up to 40 metres and the mature tree has a dense canopy made up of many branches.
Lifespan: 350 years
Supporting insect species: 98
Natural range: Europe, but not Scandinavia
Scotland’s famous beech trees
While beeches live for a relatively shorter time than other tree species, across Scotland there stand several examples of trees notable for their historic importance, unusual appearance or storied past.
- Act of Union Beeches
Situated on North Berwick Law are eight windblasted trees. They are the remains of a woodland planted by local laird, Sir Hew Dalrymple, to signify the union of Scottish and English parliaments in 1707.
- Old Maggie
This imposing copper beech sits proudly in the grounds of Belmont Castle in Perthshire. She was named by former Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who enjoyed sitting in her shade mulling over his policies between 1905-08.
- The Gallows Tree
Atop a lonely hill near Monikie village in Angus, sits this sinisterly named beech. Wrongdoers met their ghoulish end swinging from the branches of the Gallows Tree – a highly visible forewarning to any would-be criminals in the surrounding area.
- The Kilravock Castle Layering Beech, or Kissing Beech
This otherwordly specimen is extremely rare and characterised by snaking limbs, some of which take route in the ground and form further small trees. Not only this, but this particular tree has romantic roots too. It’s fabled an early landowner was caught in a tryst with the housemaid under this beech. Since then, generations of lovers have etched their initials into the bark.
- Lady Miller’s Beech
Named after the colourful landlady of a local tavern, whose secret sideline was an illicit still from which illegal alcohol was smuggled into nearby Perth.
- The Meikleour Beech Hedge
Take a leisurely drive down the A93 and witness the wonder of the world’s tallest hedge, which stands at an impressive 36.6 metres tall.
- The Pollok Park Beech
It’s the trunk of this beech that makes it quite remarkable. The huge distorted mass of burs and branches is up to seven metres wide in some places. Find it in the gardens of Glasgow’s Pollok House.
- The Seven Men of Moidart
Standing in private land on the northern shore of Loch Moidart, these five trees (once seven) were planted to commemorate the men who landed with Bonnie Prince Charlie at Glenfinnan in 1745.