My copper beech: looking a bit wrinkly

I have to admit to failing rather badly at keeping up with this excellent meme run by Lucy at Loose and Leafy. I started off well and really enjoyed watching my tree  emerge from its winter dormancy. I learnt so much both from researching for my blog and from reading others, so what went wrong?

Summer is what!  The garden and probably a bit too much travel took up all my time. Meanwhile the beech tree stood there, magnificent, apparently uncaring that it was being ignored for the most part.

But now it is Autumn; no doubt about it. The garden, though still flowering, has slowed down. My husband and I have also slowed down and have stopped our mad dash from one country to another – well I have anyway; I think the traveller still has a few business trips to fit in.

As it is Autumn, the beech tree is now becoming interesting again.  Its leaves have started changing bit by bit. It is not as early as the horse chestnuts which are well on the way to winter bareness. Mind you, we are just back from The Dordogne and the horse chestnuts over there have far fewer leaves that our Scottish ones. That really surprised me as it is still really hot over there.

First, I would like to share a photo of a lovely beech nut that came down during a recent storm. It is not from the copper beech but I’m sure they look the same.

Beech nut in August

Beech nut in August

I hope, for the sake of the squirrels, that the nuts fatten up a it before the rest come down.

When I went to look at the copper beech yesterday, I noticed several leaves were now beginning to change colour and indeed to fall off.

Beech leaves change colour

Beech leaves change colour

Beech leaves shrivel

Beech leaves shrivel

For the first time I decided to have a good look at the trunk of the tree. It was really very interesting.

At the bottom it disappeared into the ground with minimum fuss – a nice covering of green moss in parts too.

Bole of beech tree

Bole of beech tree

Higher up the tree was showing its age, with each scar making an interesting pattern in the trunk.

beech trunk 3


trunk patterns

trunk patterns

trunk patterns

trunk patterns

There was also a fair amount of lichen, which is usually a good sign, indicating good clean air.

Lichen on beech trunk

Lichen on beech trunk

If you compare the rather wrinkly copper beech trunk with the much smoother beech at the front of the garden I think we can conclude that the copper beech has been around the block a bit.

smooth beech trunk

smooth beech trunk

As I looked at the trunk I started to think about what was inside it.  I realised I didn’t remember too much of my 0-level biology so I needed to do a quick refresher cause courtesy of the internet.  I wonder how many of you, as you look at your trees, think about all the sap moving up and down the trunk; water and dissolved minerals travel up from the soil to the leaves and water, sugar and minerals travel down from the leaves to the other parts of the tree to promote growth.

It is really quite amazing how it all works.

The only living part of the trunk is just under the bark where a ring of sieve like cells (phloem) are stacked to make vertical tubes to carry the food (sugars) made by the leaves to the rest of the tree. There is an inner ring of cells (xylem) which again make a set of vertical tubes to carry the water and minerals from the roots to the leaves.  The most amazing thing is how the tree gets the water from ground level to the height of the tree. The main process for this seems to be the evaporation of water from the leaves which then pulls the narrow columns of water up the tree without the use of a single pump! These xylem cells die after one year and then make up the tree rings that you see when a tree is cut down. In countries with set seasons only one ring is produced every year and so this gives us an accurate measure of the age of the tree.

Did you also know that the rings can give a good indication of the weather conditions at the time they were formed? Wetter, sunnier weather lead to more growth and causes the rings to be further apart.

So next time you look at your tree, give a thought to how clever it is.


15 thoughts on “My copper beech: looking a bit wrinkly

  1. All deciduous trees seem to have many fewer leaves in hot countries, the reason is as you say transpiration, less water available so less leaf growth. I’ve mentioned several times how you can always see the outline of branches on my trees and they are never so full of leaf that you get those wonderful tree outlines with trunk and leaves with the branches only visible in winter. Clever, fascinating trees indeed!

    • I actually meant that they were further on with the leaf shedding, but I hadn’t realised they had less leaves to start with. It makes sense I suppose. I wonder if they then grow less in hot countries as they have less leaves to make food, or are they just more efficient with all that sun. Interesting.

  2. What a great detailed look at your tree. Our neighbour has a (very) large beech (not copper) and when I am in the garden I keep hearing the ‘plop’ of the beechnuts as they fall on his greenhouse roof. Clearly the squirrels prefer our hazel nuts to his beech nuts!

    • I am not sure the beech nuts ever fill out very much, so I am not surprised the squirrels prefer your hazel nuts. The trees should concentrate on producing fewer and fatter nuts in my opinion. They are really a nuisance to clear up.

  3. Your beech tree is such a wonderful old, sturdy, specimen. I wonder how old it is? I find that our Horse Chestnuts are always the first to shed their leaves, they started at the end of July this year, which we have never known before. We were having a drought June/July so that is probably why they were losing them so early, they switch off to conserve moisture.

    • I hope we never have to cut down the tree, but that is probably the only way we would know how old it is.
      We have been in the house twenty five years and it was pretty big when we moved in. Maybe there is a way to tell by measuring the circumference of the trunk.
      The horse chestnuts up here are always first to lose there leaves too. I think they may have been a bit later that normal this year though. I don’t think I have ever seen it start before August – that is very early.

  4. What an interesting, well researched post. You tree is beautiful. I think beech trees have the most beautiful trunks. I believe they are quite shallow rooted so they suffer more than many other trees in times of drought. But Autumn seems to be coming early to so many trees this year.

    • Thanks Chloris – it was good to remind myself of the biology that I did know at one time, but had long forgotten. Yes, beech trees do have shallow roots, but drought is seldom a problem in Scotland! I am not sure Autumn is coming early up here: only the horse chestnuts have changed colour and lost leaves to any extent, but I expect the others will be following soon.

  5. What a nice tree, glad you picked it to follow.
    My grandmother had a purple beech in their yard which was planted by her grandfather. It really was an amazing tree, too bad I can only visit via google maps…

    • Thanks Frances, I hope to have more time again now the summer is over, so I should catch the leaves changing colour and falling off. Not sure what to write about during the winter though.

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