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The “red beech”

A tree of many names

In the German language, the European Beech is called “Rotbuche” (“red beech”), which is misleading to many. In this context, the name is derived from its slightly reddish timber.

Copper Beech © Lisa Mäder

Beech (front) and European hornbeam (back) © Lisa Mäder

The red-leaved beech, however, which is very popular in parks, is called the Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea) and is a variety of the European Beech. It lacks an enzyme to break down anthocyanins (red leaf pigments), which in turn colour the leaf surface red.

Scientists refer to the beech as Fagus sylvatica, which means the beech from the forest. In English, our beech is called the European beech because it is the only beech species native to Europe.

Which makes German-speakers wonder about the origin of the European hornbeam.
Its German name is “Hainbuche”, literally a “grove beech”, and it is a native tree species too, however, its name is misleading. The European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) belongs to the birch family and is thus more closely related to the birch and to the hazel.