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Beech Trees at Peak Foliage Color

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
November 9, 2015


Beech Trees at Peak Foliage Color


Time is of the essence! Make your way to the beech collection at the Arnold Arboretum in the next few days to admire Fagus sylvatica ‘tortuosa’ (14599*A) at the peak of its fall colors. This magnificent specimen came to the Arboretum in 1888. Standing under the canopy is akin to entering a medieval cathedral with the most magnificent (and ephemeral, in this case) stained glass windows filtering the light. Look up at the winding aged shoot system and enjoy the solitude of being alone with a single beautiful organism in a sea of trees in an urban oasis.

The Arboretum hosts more than a dozen cultivars of European beech (purple-leaved, cut-leaved, weeping/pendulous forms), but none of these evolutionary deviants comes close (in my opinion) to the dramatic Fagus sylvatica ‘tortuosa’. Interestingly three disjunct populations of this extraordinary (and very slow growing) form occur naturally in France, Germany, and Sweden. One unsolved mystery is whether these European populations of tortuosa beech represent three separate mutational origins of the tortuosa form or were moved from a single population by admiring humans centuries ago.

Hot tip on Peters Hill: Parrotia persica (Persian ironwood, 689-75*A), a relative of witch-hazel, is at its peak of fall colors – purples, reds, yellows, oranges, greens – all on one plant! Definitely worth a pilgrimage. Arnoldia article here.

-Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum

2 thoughts on “Beech Trees at Peak Foliage Color

  1. I am a fine art photographer working on a book of Beech trees in Massachusetts. Is the way for someone to locate them for me? My camera is huge and the prints are quite dramatic, I would gladly donate one to you if you would like it.
    Nicholas Nixon

  2. The beech collection is located on the southeastern slope of Bussey Hill, facing Hemlock Hill near the intersection of Valley and Hemlock Hill Roads. It is accessible by Beech Path (which may be accessed near the Ponds on Bussey Hill Road) and by the South Street Gate. The collection continues on the opposite side of the road, where a natural stand of beeches grows on the hillside near the juniper collection.

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