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beech, common name for the Fagaceae, a family of trees and shrubs mainly of temperate and subtropical regions in the Northern Hemisphere. The principal genera—Castanea (chestnut and chinquapin), Fagus (beech), and Quercus (oak, including the cork oak)—form a dominant part of temperate woodland vegetation and are highly valued throughout the world for hardwood timber. Some of their species are also cultivated for their edible fruits and as ornamental and shade trees. The beeches have distinctive smooth, silvery gray bark and pale green leaves that turn golden in autumn and are often winter-persistent. The tough, strong, easily worked wood is used for furniture, flooring, crating, and woodenware. Beechnuts have a sweet flavor but are now seldom eaten except locally in poorer areas of Europe. The American beech (F. grandifolia) grows in rich soil over much of the NE United States and Canada. A slow-growing tree, it is declining in abundance through lumbering and through beech bark disease, a fungal infection that attacks the tree through holes bored in its bark by a scale insect. The blue, or water, beech is an American hornbeam of the birch family. The European beech (F. sylvatica) is an important forest tree, especially in S and Central Europe, and is valued for its wood and for an oil extracted from the nuts. Several of its varieties have reddish brown or purplish leaves and are cultivated in America as ornamentals, e.g., the purple and copper beeches. The southern beeches belong to the small genus Nothofagus; in the Southern Hemisphere, the importance of their timber is second only to that of the eucalypts. The beech family is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Fagales.
(Fagus), a genus of monoecious plants of the family Fagaceae. Beech trees are up to 50 m in height and 2 m in diameter, with smooth, gray bark. There are ten species in the extratropical regions of the northern hemisphere; in the USSR there are three species. The leaves are deciduous, simple, usually entire, and often have hairs along the edges. Beeches blossom simultaneously with the unfolding of the leaves and are pollinated by the wind. Fruitbearing begins in 20-40 years in single-standing specimens and in 60 years or more in dense stands. The acorn-like fruits (so-called nuts) have a woody jacket and are gathered in groups of two to four in a four-lobed cupule located on a peduncle. On the outside the cupule is covered with needle-like or other types of processes; by the time the fruit ripens the cupule expands and becomes woody. Beeches are shade-tolerant, but heat-loving. In the mountains they grow at altitudes up to 2,300 m. Many beeches are valuable forest-forming and mountain-protecting species. They form pure or mixed forests and live to 400 years or more.
Beech wood is dense, heavy, and takes a high polish; it decays quickly in the open air, but in water and in moist conditions it is very durable. It is used for manufacturing musical instruments, veneers, parquet, curved furniture, methyl alcohol, and so on. The fruit contains a poisonous alkaloid, fagine, which quickly decomposes when heated; salad and industrial oils are prepared from the fruit. The oil cake is used to feed swine. Antarctic beeches belong to the genus Nothofagus.
REFERENCEDerev’ia i kustarniki SSSR, vol. 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.
A. P. SHIMANIUK