Discovering the beech

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Where does beech come from?

As its botanical name “Fagus sylvatica” indicates, beech is part of the fagaceae family – (from the Greek phego: edible nut oak) as is the oak or the chestnut.

Originally from Central Europe, it adapts very well to mountainous and oceanic climates as well as areas with high rainfall. It is vulnerable to excessive cold and heat and especially prefers temperate zones.

Forming 10% of French forests, either in beech plantations or mixed with other species such as oak, pine and hornbeam (i.e. 1.3 million hectares) forming high forests, beech can be found in most of Western Europe. In France it is the second most common species after the oak.

At the start of its life, the beech tree seek shades, mostly under oak trees.

Growing straight, it can reach heights of 40 metres, a maximum diameter of 1.30 m and a life expectancy of 300 years! It is mostly felled at between 90 and 120 years.

The logs from its straight and cylindrical trunk measure from 6 to 15 metres.

How to recognise beech?

  • Yellowish, greyish with a pinkish tendancy, beech wood does not have a distinctive tapwood. Its slabs can be slightly flamed due to its humidity content (varying from 0.60 to, 0.75 to 12% humidity depending on the region). It can therefore be qualified as a “half heavy” to “heavy” timber. The reddening of the heartwood can be caused by a fungus that attacks certain trees, making it a more nervous and fragile zone than others.
  • Its perfectly straight trunk is covered in a smooth, light grey bark without any cracks, that could be compared to rhinoceros skin.
  • Its oval leaves are slightly waved and have cillia in the spring. Light green at first, their tops quickly turn dark green.  The underside remains pale. Their short leaf stalks have 5 to 9 pairs of lateral veins. The growth of undergrowth is however prevented by the density of its foliage.

Beech especially likes to root in cool, drained, rich and deep soil.

 feuilles-hêtre      hetre      hetre-vuebas

What are the properties and uses of beech?

Beech timber is mainly used indoors.

It is highly appreciated by wood flooring and furniture manufacturers (cabinet makers, seat manufacturers) as well as for the production of household items such as brushes, coat hangers, kitchen ware, wooden toys, etc. thanks to the daring shapes it can take.

Its bactericide properties give it the particularity of also being used for butchers stalls, kitchen trolleys, worktops, etc.

It is also very good firewood for heating in winter.

Finally, combined with materials such as stainless steel, glass or aluminium, it can be used in a very design and modern spirit.

[Did you know?]

In England in the 19th century, the beechnut (fruit of the beech tree) was used to make a cooking oil and a lighting oil (50 kg of beechnuts for 10 l of oil).