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FAGUS SYLVATICA 'EUROPEAN BEECH;
[Ex. Co. Durham]
These seeds were collected from a fantastic ancient tree growing near the village of Esh Whinning in Co. Durham, England.
Fagaceae: Large deciduous tree to 50 m, with a broad, rounded crown. Bark is usually smooth and grey, but it can also be rougher, crowded ascending branches. The leaves are oval and pointed, wavy margin with tiny silky hairs. The shiny 3-sided brown nuts, enclosed in a prickly casing. It has a typical lifespan of 250 to 300 years, though there are some specimens up to 600 years old in Britain. A widespread native tree of western and central Europe, being one of the late to colonise Britain after the last ice age.
The young leaves can be eaten raw, and have a very nice mild flavour, and go well in a mixed salad. However, the leaves quickly become tough so only the youngest should be used, the new growth is usually produced for 2 periods of 3 weeks each year, one in spring and one in mid-summer. The seed or beech nuts can be used raw or cooked, these has a pleasant sweet flavour, though rather small and fiddly. The nuts can also be dried and ground into a powder and then used with cereal flours when making bread, cakes and the like. The seed is also rich in oil.
The bark has antacid, antipyretic, antiseptic, antitussive, expectorant, odontalgic properties. A tar (or creosote), obtained by dry distillation of the branches, is stimulating and antiseptic. It is used internally as a stimulating expectorant and externally as an application to various skin diseases. The pure creosote has been used to give relief from toothache, but needs to be used with care.
Beech seeds contain a natural dormancy within them. This must be broken down for successful germination to occur. Simply planting untreated seed will most likely give disappointing results.
First mix your seeds with an appropriate volume of moist compost. As a rough guide, a volume that is roughly double that of the volume of your seeds is about right. If is slightly more or less it's ok. The aim is to have enough compost mixed between the seeds to separate the seeds from each other. The compost can be any general potting compost or you can make your own mix of 60/40 peat and sharp sand.
The compost must be MOIST and not wet. If you can squeeze water from the compost with your hand, it is too wet. If the compost mix is too wet the seeds will drown and not germinate.
Place your compost and seed mix into a clear plastic bag (freezer bags are great for this) and tie the bag loosely so that there can be a small degree of air exchange from within the bag. Label the bag and include the date that you started to pre-treat the seed. Place the bag in the fridge (not the freezer!!) and after a couple of weeks start to check it at least once a week to see if they have begun to germinate. A small white root will emerge from the pointed part of the seed. If the compost begins to get dry, add a little water. Once around 10% of the seeds have begun to germinate, the dormancy is broken and it is time to get them sown quickly.
If you are planting the in pots these should be at least 15+cm deep to allow development of the strong taproot that this species has. Any general, good quality potting compost containing a slow release fertilizer will give you good growth, and is usually far superior to using general garden soil for container grown plants. When your trees are large enough-perhaps after two growing seasons, plant them in their permanent position. Keep them free from grass and weeds and protect them from rabbits. Height growth in the first year will range between 15 and 40cm depending growing conditions. Keep them well watered and never let them wilt! Seeds sown under glass should be brought outside in early summer.
If you are sowing them outside the pre-treatment and sowing needs to be timed so that the seeds will emerge from the ground around mid-May (depending on your locality)-after the last ground frosts. Beech are very sensitive to frost especially as they emerge from the soil. It will kill them. If there is a late spring frost the seedlings must be protected. Seeds sown outdoors must also be protected from rodents and pigeons. Always look out for aphid attacks which will cause leaf and stem distortion.
APPROX. 8 SEEDS