Native from northern Sicily to southern Sweden and sweeping East to West across Europe, this ornamental tree is a variety of the European beech. It arrived in North America centuries ago, coming from Europe with colonists as a decorative shade tree. With smooth, light-gray bark, this deciduous tree develops deep-purple leaves that flush copper-red in autumn. Its extensive yet shallow root system forms symbiotic relationships with many fungi which help with water and nutrient uptake from the soil.
Though deciduous, beech leaves do not always drop in the fall, remaining on the branches through spring in a process called marcescence. This makes copper beeches, which tend to grow between 50-60 ft with dense crowns between 30-40 ft wide, charming screens even through the winter. After flowering in the spring, the female flowers produce small beechnuts, which are edible to animals and humans. In fact, in 19th-century England, it was common to press these beech nuts for oil, which may have been used for lamps.