Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tricolor Beech Tree: Ask and Ye Shall Receive

It’s always fun to see how folks find their way to Arboreality. Some are googling tree blog or tree blogging, but most are looking for specific tree species. One of the most popular searches year-round is for the tri-color beech tree (Fagus sylvatica, ‘Purpurea Tricolor’, formerly ‘Roseomarginata’).

The Tricolor beech tree in today’s images is a young specimen planted here at the farm. It’s having a bit of a tough time, possibly owing to the Black walnuts (Juglans nigra) towering overhead. (Black walnuts are well-known for their allelopathic qualities, and are toxic to many neighboring plants).

Tricolor beech trees usually include green, white, and pink variegation on their leaves. Other variegated beeches include the cultivars ‘Albovariegata’ and ‘Luteovariegata’. While not specific to the Tricolor beech, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees says Fagus sylvatica “tolerates most soils, best in calcareous or deep sandy loam; hardy in cool, moist temperate regions.”

The Audubon Field Guide also mentions that “the words beech and book come from the same root, because ancient Saxons and Germans wrote on pieces of beech board.”

If you have questions, suggestions, or other thoughts on growing the Tricolor beech, be sure to share with us in the comments!


Source information:

Little, Elbert L. 1980. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

More, David and John White. 2002. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees. Portland: Timber Press. p. 341.


  1. I have been obsessing about the tricolor beech since seeing one in a garden near Marion, NC duing a Master Gardener field trip to some gardens. I just had one delivered since it was in a 25 gallon box and it is just leafing out. The new leaves seen solid purple to me and I wonder, does the color and variagation intensify as the leaves mature? I am concerned that it is not actually a tricolor and I paid the most I have ever paid for a tree. Over $300.


  2. I planted 2 tricolor beech trees, one died 1st year and the other after much care given seems to barely hold on each year. It is maybe 2 feet tall with about 10 leaves this year. Mine has morning shade but gets some noon and afternoon sun, which may be too much. JS, Michigan zone 5

  3. Hello Ralph,

    In my experience (and mind you I'm not a professional botanist, but rather a hobbyist), Tri-Color Beech trees have a tendency to migrate toward a single color. This is perfectly normal according to gardeners I've spoken with. In some cases, I've seen Tri-Color Beech trees manifest different colors in different years, and some seem to like to show their colors more than others.

    If I had to guess, I might think that the soil composition and the age of the tree has something to do with this process. What I've heard most often from gardeners is that babying your Tri-Color Beech is the easiest way to lose the variegation. Stressing your tree (not giving it too much food and water) is often a better guarantee for the full range of colors. Again, I'm not an expert – I hope you'll stop by and let us know if you learn something different.

    Good luck, and thanks for visiting Arboreality!


  4. Anonymous,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with the Tri-Color Beech tree.

    If, by any chance, you've planted your Beeches near Black Walnuts, you may be encountering a process known as "allelopathy". Allelopathy refers to a process where by a plant releases certain chemicals which inhibit the growth of other plants (thereby creating more room for their own offspring to germinate and thrive).

    You haven't mentioned any nut trees, so my other thought would simply by that trees, especially young, transplanted trees, can be very sensitive. Sometimes their root systems fail to thrive when planted (especially if the root ball is bound up), and other times it's just too much stress for the young transplant. Even the best gardeners among us can lose new trees - keep trying!

    Thanks for visiting Arboreality.


  5. Hello, We planted a Tri-color Beech last year. This year it began to leaf out, then quit. I know it is behind other local Tri-color Beechs who are fully leafed out. It is about 8ft tall and only has about 20 leaves. I can find no indication of any problems. Any ideas? Thanks, Susan

  6. I had a dog wood in my front yard for 13yrs. Teh first year I lied at my house,it blossomed.Then nothing.So I was looking for a colorful tree to plant in it's place.
    Went to my local Nursery.Purchased a Tricolor Beech in May. Planted it right away. About a week ago(July)I was going to water and it looked droopy.The next dry it looked very dry. No bugs,looked throughly. It looks terrible.
    Any suggestions?
    Talked to the Nursery who said to give it Vit B.Did that see no difference. They also told me not to take it out of the ground to see it will grow again.

  7. That Tricolor beech tree is one of my favoristes, and does okay near Portland, Oregon, too. Although, this time I planted 3 purple beech trees. Would have been happy with either. It gets just a few aphids, but no real problem in most cases.

    M. D. Vaden of Oregon

  8. We have lived in the shade of a50 plus yr old v.beech tree for 18+ years. This year is the first year that the tree has produced a strange four sided star seed,very prolific and very hard and sharp. Almost sharp enough to punture the sole of zories, or maybe a tire. I am interested in this phenom, as it may be that the tree has reached its maturity and will give up soon and is trying to reproduce, or maybe it just happens in 20 yr cycles. As I look at it in late summer (august 23rd, 2009) most of the pink color has left, only whit and green remain, and the base circumfrence in 105 inches. Besides enjoying the beautiful spring colors, the never ending leaves falling in the fall, the 100$ yearly systemic treatment that keeps the aphid droppings off the vehicles and lawn below, (it is a very sticky mess) we wonder how long the tree will live?

  9. Susan of Indianapolis.
    I planted a tricolor beech about 10 years ago. It took several years for it to establish. It is now doing well. The planting area was a little wet and in hard pan clay so I placed the rootball two thirds of the way into a square hole with very rough sides mounding soil up around the ball. I haven't given it any special attention except to water it carefully and sprinkle systemic insect controller/fertilizer to help control mites and aphids. Two years ago we put a drainage system in the yard. The yard is better; the beech is fine. I'm going to try another beech in the same spot as a just removed mature silver maple. If I'm lucky, it will grow.

  10. Greetings all - I want to thank those of you who return to share your experiences with the tri-color beech tree. This is a popular tree, and therefore this has become a popular post.

    I'm not an expert on the needs of this tree, but most of what I read has a consistent bit of advice: don't baby your beech. Being too tender to your tri-color beech might encourage it to lose its tri-color and revert to a single shade. This won't kill your tree, but I have not read anything about how to get the three colors back once they've vanished from a specimen.

    I invite visitors to continue to ask questions and share information. This subject will be added to my to-do list for a future in-depth article at Arboreality.

    Thanks again to everyone for sharing your love and knowledge of trees!


  11. We purchased and planted a 11' tri color beech in the fall of 2006. WE were UP-rooted (by the recessession)and lost our home in foreclosure. Could not bear thought of leaving our beautiful tri-color to dry up during it's bank-owned months ~ so we took 'her' with us...(Dug her up in JUNE of last yr) - maybe about 13'-15' tall - and put her into a giant nursery pot that suited her root ball size. We tended to her water needs daily and gave her B-1 occassionally, the 1st few weeks after potting her.. She appeared 'happy' the rest of the summer, fall, etc. ( We placed 'her' temporarily on the NE side of a garden shed, to give her protection from our areas SW wind direction, knowing we could not put her back-in-the-ground until this spring. All other trees are budding and leafing out - but no sign of 'new life' on our beloved tri-color. I know they seem somewhat slower than other trees, to come out of 'hybernation' -- but is it possible we LOST her? We live in the NW - WA state, zone6. Oh, I should mention, she is semi-protected by towering pine trees that give the yard dappled to occassional shade, where she has been wintering.

  12. We are considering planting a tri-color beech in our front yard to replace a large sweet gum tree which was cut down, but left many above ground roots all over the yard. The main two questions I have are: 1) How late in the fall do the tri-colors' leaves fall, and 2) Does it drop many different "goodies" on the ground all year round? (The sweet gum was relentless with it's droppings- if it wasn't one thing it was another, the worst being large thorny balls all over the place). We would like to plant a tree which is not so messy. Thanks for your response.

  13. I have a friend who has a fully mature and BEAUTIFUL Tri Color Beech tree. Is there a way get a 'start' off of the existing tree? She would love to be able to have a 2nd tree in her yard. THANK YOU!


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