Characteristics and Distribution

Beech forests are among the deciduous broadleaf forests which occur only in the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere. The distribution of broadleaf forests dominated by red beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) is confined to Europe. Without human influence, beech forests would dominate the landscape in Central Europe and would by nature cover around two-thirds of Germany’s land area.

Beech forests reach their natural expansion limit at the Baltic coast. © T. Geisel
Beech forests reach their natural expansion limit at the Baltic coast. © T. Geisel

Beech – also known as red beech for its reddish-white wood – has great ecological assertiveness and, since the Ice Age, has thus succeeded in expanding from small refuge areas in Southern and South-East Europe and colonising large areas of Europe. It thrives in a cool and temperate climate. It exists only in Europe, with Germany being its main distribution area. Beech has immense competitive vigour and asserts itself almost everywhere. It combines a capacity to tolerate shade with strong growth. Only a few adapted plants can thrive in its shade, so it is generally beech, again, which grows beneath the canopy of large beech trees. Despite the dominance of a single tree species, beech forest is the preferred habitat of many thousands of species of flora, fauna and fungus. It is thought that beech has not yet reached its climatic distribution boundary. The vigour of its expansion therefore continues undiminished. Recolonisation after the Ice Age is still ongoing here – a process which cannot be observed anywhere else in the world. What is also extraordinary is the marked seasonal cycle of the beech forest, with its spring-flowering plants, the vivid colours of its foliage in autumn, and leaf drop.