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Nothofagus - Growing Guide

Growing Nothofagus

Southern Beech

Caerhays once had a collection of seven species of nothofagus which were all then record trees. The hurricane of 26/27th January 1990 blew all of them down thus demonstrating that these shallow rooted trees, from the southern hemisphere, need a sheltered location to remain upright. This certainly proved to be the case for those who have tried to grow nothofagus as a commercial timber crop in the UK.

Burncoose was once able to import direct most of the native Chilean nothofagus species but this avenue was closed a few years ago and we now have to rely on propagation by cuttings and from seeds on our developing young replacement trees. This has, for the moment, reduced the number of species which we are able to offer in our catalogue.

The southern beeches are both evergreen and deciduous shrubs. There are 34 known species from the mountains of South America and Australasia. While related to Fagus (beech) most species have small alternate leaves closely spaced along the branchlets. Nothofagus grow extremely quickly and the species we offer are perfectly hardy but they will not grow on chalk soils.

N. antarctica, the Antarctic beech, is a deciduous tree with finely toothed or crinkled leaves which turn yellow in autumn. When grown in pots this species has a rather loose or floppy habit and careful staking is needed to ensure that the leading shoot gets away. This may necessitate cutting off some lower side branches unless you want to end up with a multi-stemmed tree. N. antarctica grows up to 50ft with a normal spread of about half this.

N. cunninghamii, the myrtle beech, is a conical evergreen tree with dark blackish green leaves of about an inch in length. This is a Tasmanian species.

N. dombeyi is perhaps the most popular species, and one which we are sometimes successful with from new growth cuttings taken early in the year. Less successful are cuttings taken in early autumn from more mature new growth. N. dombeyi is a fast growing evergreen with narrow ovate lance shaped leaves. Our 25 year old trees have yet to produce viable seed.

N. fusca, the red beech, has attractive new growth and the evergreen leaves turn coppery in the autumn. Our plants at Caerhays were from seed collected by Sir Harold Hillier in New Zealand. They produce a huge crop of small beech mast seeds but sadly, as yet, these have not proved particularly viable.

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