Fagaceae

Trees and shrubs, deciduous or evergreen, with well-protected winter bud scales that produce a flush of spring growth. Leaves simple, alternate; stipules scale-like soon falling. Flowers on new growth, small, unisexual (monoecious), both sexes on one plant. Male flowers in catkins, short spikes or solitary; perianth lobed, stamens crowded, filaments free, anthers long. Female flowers solitary or few in and involucre that hardens into a cupule; perianth almost lacking; ovary with one to three (or up to six) styles and stigmas and as many cavities, each containing two ovules. Fruit a one-seeded nut. About 1000 species in 8 genera, widely distribute throughout the temperate and subtropical regions, except Africa. Important genera with native species: Nothofagus (southern evergreen beeches), exotic genera: Fagus (northern deciduous beeches), naturalised: Quercus (oak). Part of the text on this page has been modified from Allan (1961).

 

 

Nothofagus in New Zealand

There are four endemic New Zealand Nothofagus species: N. solandri var solandri (black beech), N. solandri var cliffortioides (mountain beech), N. truncata (hard beech), N. fusca (red beech), N. menziesii (silver beech). All are trees with evergreen leaves, pubescent branchlets and petioles and conspicuous lenticels. Inflorescences are in the axils of the uppermost scales and contain between 1-3 flowers. Male flowers are on a short peduncle, female flowers are in a lobed involcure (ring of bracts). Hybrids occur between all taxa of the fuscoid group (all except silver beech). Silver beech is our only surviving member of the menziesioid group. The brassoid group was represented earliest in our fossil record but became extinct in the Pleistocene.

 

 

Nothofagus solandri var. solandri (black beech)

Tree reaching 27m, leaves 1-1.5cm long, entire, elliptic oblong to orbicular, white tomentose underneath. Male flowers broad, cup shaped and red, female inflorescence hairy, involcure is tiny, three lobed and contains two flowers. Nuts 3 angled or flat, 5-7 mm long. Found in lowland to montane forest south of Little Barrier Island at elevations up to 600m.

 

Leaves and male flowers of Nothofagus solandri var. solandri, note that the flowers are highly reduced.

 

 

Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides (mountain beech)

Tree reaching 20m. Bark smooth, branchlets often arranged in two rows. Leaves 1-2.5cm long, entire, ovate-triangular to elliptic-ovate, white tomentose underneath. Male flowers broad, cup shaped and red, female inflorescence very sticky, involcure is tiny, three lobed and contains two flowers, Nuts 3 angled or flat, 5-7 mm long. Found in montane to sub-alpine forest south of East Cape.

 

Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides tree.

 

 

Nothofagus truncata (hard beech)

A tree reaching 30m tall with thick, furrowed, slaty grey to dark grey bark. Leaves 2.5-4cm in length, coriaceous, broadly ovate, coarsely and bluntly toothed with 8-12 pairs of teeth. Male flowers are bell shaped, female involucre has 4 lobes and contains 3 flowers. Nuts 3-angled or flat, 8mm long. Grows in lowland and lower montane forest from the north down to Marlborough and south Westland.

 


Nothofagus truncata forest and a close up of leaves showing the coarsely and bluntly toothed margins.

 

 

Nothofagus fusca (red beech)

Tree up reaching up to 35m often buttressed, bark is thick, furrowed and dark. The leaves are 2.5-4cm long, broadly ovate and coarsely and sharply toothed with 6-8 pairs of teeth and 1-2 domatia on the back of the leaf. Male flowers bell-shaped, female involcure four lobed and contains three flowers inflorescence 3 flowered. Nuts 3-angled or flat, 7mm long with reddish margins. Grows in lowland to montane forest south of 37.

 

Foliage of Nothofagus fusca showing the coarse and sharply toothed leaf margins.

 

 

Nothofagus menziesii (silver beech).

Tree up to 30m tall, trunk often buttressed and bark cherry-like on young trees, furrowed and greyish white on old trees. Leaves 8-12mm long, coriaceous, broadly ovate or deltoid, doubly toothed, domatia on underside. Male flowers single with a broad deeply cut perianth, female involucre 4-lobed, glandular. Nuts 3-angled or flat, 5-6mm long. Lowland to montane forest or as a shrub in the sub-alpine zone, south of latitude 37.

 

Foliage, female flowers and developing nuts of Nothofagus menziesii.

 

 

 

Keys

Allan, H.H. 1961: Flora of New Zealand, Volume I, Government Printer, Wellington.

Wardle, J. 1984: The New Zealand Beeches: ecology utilisation and management. Caxton Press, Christchurch.

Wilson, T. & T. Galloway 1993: Small-leaved Shrubs of New Zealand. Manuka Press, Christchurch. (Juveniles)

 

References

Allan, H.H. 1961: Flora of New Zealand, Volume I, Government Printer, Wellington.

Poole, A. L. & N. M. Adams 1994: Trees and shrubs of New Zealand. Government Printer, Wellington.

Wardle, J. 1984: The New Zealand Beeches: ecology utilisation and management. Caxton Press, Christchurch.

Webb, C.J., P.N. Johnson & W.R. Sykes 1990: Flowering Plants of New Zealand. DSIR Botany Division, Christchurch.

Wilson, T. & T. Galloway 1993: Small-leaved Shrubs of New Zealand. Manuka Press, Christchurch.