Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gardening: Purple (or Copper) Beeches

God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars. – Martin Luther

Dew kissed purple beech in early Fall.
If you want impact in your landscape not much can beat a purple beech tree. Fagus sylvatica purpurea is a member of the beech tree that bears beautiful dark purple (sometimes approaching midnight colour) leaves on what can become a very large tree.

The triangular nuts are encased in a fuzzy husk. Note how
the leaves have turned from purple to green in Au
Purple beech, given ideal conditions, can reach a height of up to 150+ feet tall. More usually though it tops out at about 100 feet. As with most trees, the first decade shows quite rapid growth and then it slows as it reaches a height where it can force its way into the sunshine. A typical tree can live from 150 to 200 years, so choose where you put it carefully…

The leaves are simple with a slightly wavy margin. In the Spring the leaves start out an interesting shade of coppery colour. As they unfurl they darken to their full deep purple. In full sun the colour is more pronounced. 

Under shade they can retain a significant green cast. That information is from my own personal observation. We have two saplings growing in different locations and this has held true for every year until the second broke through higher into the sun. Then the colour changed.

Like all beech trees, they fruit with a nut that caries two seeds. Each seed is triangular shaped. I collected some of these in September and planted them. Already I have three strong little plans (very green) biding their time until next Spring to begin to spurt up further.

I collected the seeds from Point Pleasant Park. The park has many specimens of this tree, and since they don’t produce seed until they are between 60-80 years old you can tell they’ve been there a while. During Hurricane Juan in 2003 dozens of these stately beauties were lost.

It appears mother nature has been redoubling her efforts since because many saplings, now between 6-8 years old and about 10 feet high, are making appearance in places where the trees never were before. Some purple beeches have been purchased and re-planted, but you can find new saplings growing along the small paths that wind their way through the park.

I would imagine that many of these new trees were partly as a result of Juan scattering seed far and wide throughout the park. This year, where I gathered my few seeds, the ground was literally covered with the nuts. There is little in the way of maintenance to clean the roads, so they would have been trampled underfoot and taken back into the ground to decompose.

So I rescued three. I have high hope for them. Of course I will not live to see them tower overhead, but that isn’t the reason a person plants a tree. The planting of a seed is a sign of hope for the future, for life and for good times yet to be enjoyed.

If you want a tree with spectacular colour, try purple beech. I can’t think of any better.

This avenue had mature purple beeches on both sides before the hurricane of 2003.
The mature trees still standing have only about half of the branches they once did.
These trees have been replanted to hurry the restoration along.

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