Knowing the difference between trees feels like the sort of basic knowledge we should all have under our belts, like the ability to tie a slip knot and the setting point for jam.


Here we will show you the key features of beech trees, which you are likely to encounter on your own winter woodland walk to help you learn how to spot them.

How to identify a beech tree (Fagus sylvatica)

beech tree

You will often find beech trees growing only among their own, particularly on free-draining, chalky and sandy soils. The beech tree is particularly good at snaffling every scrap of light, and in summer beech woodlands can be gloomy, strangely empty places. Beech tree seedlings can happily grow beneath the canopies, being expert at capturing low light themselves, but little else can, and the bigger trees finish the job by sending their roots snaking across the surface, reducing germination opportunities further. In autumn this monopolistic behaviour can be forgiven, when beech trees turn into a mass of a pure shimmering copper, until even the air seems to take on a golden, honey-tinged glow – one of the great spectacles of the tree year.

Identifying beech tree bark

beech bark

When beech trees are young the bark is grey and smooth with some horizontal markings. As the trees age, the bark becomes rougher with snaking vertical plates, sometimes cracked horizontally.

Identifying beech leaves

Fagus Sylvatica (Common beech)

Beech tree leaves emerge lime green in spring, unfolding like fans and covered in silvery, silky hairs. They turn dark green in summer, and vibrant copper in autumn. Young beech trees hold leaves all winter.

Identifying the winter twig of the beech tree

Fagus Sylvatica (Common beech)

Thin, elegant, dark-brown stems hold large, sharply pointed buds that are placed alternately and are angled away from the beech stems, rather than held close to it.

Identifying beech mast or nuts

In autumn clusters of pale-brown, spiky seed cases drop to the ground and peel themselves open, each revealing three shiny, three-sided beech nuts within.

Identifying the beech tree silhouette

beech silhouette
© Liam McAuley

The beech tree silhouette is tall and broad and straight limbed. It has a great number of branches that reach confidently up and out from the main trunk.