Do you too enjoy the sight of those impressive solitary beech trees standing proud and aloof out in the countryside? A copper beech often adds colour to the oldest part of a graveyard. They are large strong trees. Have you ever noticed how beeches growing in a beech wood still keep a fair distance between each other? Or that nothing grows under them? Beeches are beautiful trees, but also lonely and aloof trees. What is the reason for this? Find out by reading this new tale.
A long long time ago there was a wise king. He was a real king, you could see this at a glance. Tall, broad-chested and strong, he surveyed the world around him with detached pride. The people thought highly of their king, even though they feared him too. He was just, but crushed any uprisings in the bud, when needed. His subjects respectfully referred to him as ‘The Beech” .
One night a dream revealed to King Fágus Sylvática, as he was officially known, that he would soon die. When he woke up, he knew that it was true. The lonely king had no children and did not trust his servants. Sovereigns are surrounded by elbowers, boot lickers and yes-men. Being king is not much fun: they often have a very lonely existence.
But who should succeed him and ensure the continuing prosperity of his dear people? Aware of his imminent death, he thought up a plan. Two independent young people at court had caught his eye. One was a strong young knight and the other was the clever daughter of his gardener.
“I want to see which of you is the best suited to be my successor. The one who fulfils the challenge in an honest, just and skilled way, will be the new sovereign of this land,” said the old king to these two. “Both of you will take a cart loaded with vegetables and grain to a poor village in the east of the country. Tell the villagers that you are bringing them food in the name of the king. Listen to their cares and wish them a good harvest in the coming year. These are simple but generous-hearted people. Accept only one present from them.”
The next morning the young knight spurred on the horses and rode off confidently with the fully loaded cart. He was convinced that he would be the new king, simply because of his good background. Within less than two hours of leaving he was ambushed by bandits acting on behalf of the king. How would the young knight behave then? His honesty, commitment and leadership would be put to the test.
The tough knight felt that his honour had been shamed by the robbers who had stolen his cart without his being able to fight back. He realized he had failed his task and would never become king. So he decided to hide for a few days. When he returned to the palace, the king asked: ”How did you get on, young man?”
“Oh, your Majesty, my journey went well. The villagers are very grateful for your kindness and have sent you this special wooden flute as a present.” The king looked the young knight in the eyes and said nothing.
The next day the gardener’s daughter left with a cart to another village. She too was ambushed by bandits. She turned round at once and returned to the palace to tell what had happened and asked the king for a new cart of grain and vegetables for the poor villagers as well as extra support to ward off further attacks by the bandits.
So it became clear to the king which of the two should be the next sovereign. His gardener’s daughter was not only honest, but also clearly concerned about the people’s welfare and needs. The next day her coronation took place. “O, my dear queen,” said the king when they were alone together after all the ceremonies had taken place. “Tomorrow I will no longer be here. You are not only honest and just, I also know that you will reign with wisdom. However, you are still young and I will continue to help you. Plant this small nut on my grave and whenever you have problems, come to the tree which will grow from it. Listen carefully to the tree’s wise words.” That night the king died and the young queen carefully planted the rough little nut on his grave. By daylight the next day a tree had sprouted from the nut and it quickly grew into a large, broad and strong tree with thick branches and roots. The lonely tree towered high above everything else and proudly oversaw everything from a distance. The Queen began each day by visiting the tree to ask its advice. The long years of her reign are still known as being a period in history of the greatest good fortune and peace. The people gave the tree a name, the Beech, naming it after the wise King who lay buried under the great tree.
A striking characteristic of the beech, Fágus Sylvática, is the shallow root system.Thick roots lie partially aboveground. As a result they are quite easily blown over during heavy storms. So, not surprisingly, the tree does not reach a very great age: about 150 years on average or 300 years under exceptional circumstances. A beech has broad branches which ensures that the trunk remains in the shadow. If a side branch is sawn off and the trunk then gets the full sun, the bark will burn. This can either seriously damage the tree or even kill it. Next time you see a freestanding beech, take a careful look up and down its whole trunk. It does not grow in a straight line up to its top. Moreover, the large side branches growing out horizontally and down provide an entire family with a marvellous swing. The dense foliage lets little light through. For this reason and because of the acidity of the leaves, almost nothing grows under a beech.