Copper beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea')

Old Main Meadow, east of Bird Sanctuary Map

There are three of these old smooth-barked beauties located between the main western entrance to Old Main and the Bird Sanctuary. They may date from the 1920s. Large as these specimens are (the tallest is about 110 ft. high), they are dwarfed by several growing on Williams Street, near Elizabeth Park, Bellingham, that probably were planted in the 1890s. In the wild some specimens of Fagus sylvatica reach 160 ft. in height.

Fagus sylvatica is a common woodland tree in Europe; it was introduced to North America in the 18th century. It is widely planted as a shade tree; in fact it casts such efficient shade that it tends to stifle the growth of anything nearby. The Copper (or Purple) form is only one of very many cultivars of this highly popular species (one source lists over 30, with many left undescribed). Formerly, beech nuts (called "mast") were used for animal feed, and pressed to provide flammable oil. Beech nut oil also is said to have medicinal value.