Jubilee Tree – Copper beech in Harlaxton churchyard

The Woodland Trust has digitised a book recording all of the trees planted across the UK in 1936/7 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI.

According to the record, there were no trees planted in Grantham. The closest record however is from Harlaxton, a small village a mile or so to the west of the town. Here, two copper beech (Fagus sylvatica cuprea) were planted, one in the churchyard and one in the rectory garden.

I wasn’t able to find the tree in the rectory garden (at least without trespassing) but the tree in the churchyard has grown into a fantastic specimen, 75 years on. It stands close to the boundary wall on the right hand side as you enter the churchyard from the road.

Copper beech in Harlaxton churchyard

The tree has a diameter at breast height (dbh) of 2.62m.  There are a number of old well-healed scars where branches have been removed from the trunk, and a couple of scars it has made itself where the branches have twisted and grown around one another over the years.

Copper beech in Harlaxton Churchyard

In the winter it doesn’t look so very different from its native relative, the common beech, although you can clearly make out the tinge of purple. Copper beeches arose as mutants in the wild populations where they were first recorded in Germany around the 15th century*. The purple colouration to the leaves is caused by a buildup of the pigment anthocyanin which is sufficient to mask the chlorophyll which usually colours the leaves green. Scientists have identified a single gene mutation for copper colouration which is dominant*. Crossing the copper beech can even create trees with variagated or semi-purple colouring.Birch is another species where natural mutation has led to copper varieties being identified and bred for ornamental use.

Copper beeches are now found growing extensively throughout Europe now as ornamental trees in towns and gardens – there is another fine specimen in the centre of Grantham, in front of the council building. I will be back in the summer and take a photograph of the tree in all is copper glory!

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