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Fagales

The Fagales or beech order of flowering plants (angiosperms, or Magnoliophyta), consists of three families ( Balanopacea , Betulaceae/ Birch and Fagaceae/ Beech) and somewhere between 1,100 and 1,200 species. The Fagales are all woody trees and shrubs with simple leaves usually arranged alternately. The majority of the fagales are native to temperate and subtropical regions. However certain species, most notably those of the Betulaceae family can be found at the growing limits for woody plants in Artic and Alpine regions.

The Balanopacea family is the smallest in this order and consists of only one genus, Balanops, with around 9 species known. It is found almost exclusively on New Caledonia in the southwestern Pacific Ocean.

Lithocarpus densiform
Image source: [ 1 ]
Nothofagus Dombeyi
Image source: [ 2 ]

The Betulaceae (Birch) and Fagaceae (Beech) families are much larger, consisting of 6 genera (aprox. 120 to 150 species) and 9 or 10 genera (up to 1,000 species), respectively.
Members of the Betulaceae family include the birches, alder and hazel trees.
Fagaceae
members include the Chestnut, Oak, Beech, Lithocarpus (e.g. tanbark oak) and Castanopsis (evergreen chinquapins).

It should be noted that although merely superficially similar, the genus Nothofagus , or false beech, is sometimes classified as a separate family within the order Fagales. This genus is found only in the Southern Hemisphere. [ 3 ]


Oak ( Quercus )

Live Oak
Querus chrysolepis
Image source: [ 1 ]

The oak tree genus is the largest member of the Beech or Fagaceae family, with around 450 different species. It is found principally in northern temperate zones as well as Polynesia. The species specific to the southern hemisphere are commonly evergreens. Oak wood is an important source of hardwood lumber and is often used in flooring, construction, shipbuilding and furniture. Oaks are generally divided into either white or black oaks.
The white oaks, such as the white, post, cork and holly oaks, have smooth-lobed leaves and acorns that mature in one year. Black oaks (such as the scarlet, pin, willow, live and shingle oaks), on the other hand, are characterised by leaves with sharp-tipped lobes and acorns (the fruit of the oak) that typically mature in 2 years. It should be noted that Poison oak is not a member of this family but of the Sumac family. [ 3 ]

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Chestnut (Castanea)

The chestnut or Castanea genus is a member of Fagaceae family of trees and shrubs, typically found in Northern temperate and subtropical regions. The chestnut, like the other main Fagaceae genera (Oak and Beech), is a large dominant forest tree which is an important source of hardwood timber. [ 3 ]

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Beech (Fagus)

The Fagus or beech genus of the Fagaceae family consists of around 10 species of deciduous trees, native to temperate and subtropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere. However, beech is also used in reference to the Nothofagus (false beech, red beech, most of the trees referred to as 'beeches' in Australia are of this genus), red box (a member of Myrtaceae but often called Australian beech) and Malay bush beech (a member of Verbenaceae ). True beech trees (i.e. Fagus ), include the American beech ( F. grandifolia ) and the European beech ( F. sylvatica ). Both are important for their timber and are often grown as ornamentals. Other species include the Chinese beech ( F. engleriana ), Japanese beech ( F. japonica ), Mexican beech, or haya ( F. mexicana ) and the Oriental beech ( F. orientalis ). Beeches are slow-growing and can live for up to 400 years. [ 3 ]

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[1] Martin, Paul S., and Drew, Charles M., 1969. "Scanning electron photomicrographs of southwestern pollen grains."
    Journal Arizona Academy of Sciences 5 ( 3 ): 147 - 176. Palynology, University of Arizona : http://geo.arizona.edu/palynology
[2]
Solomon, A.M., King, J.E., Martin, P.S. and Thomas, J., 1973. "Further scanning electron photomicrographs of southwestern pollen grains."
    Journal Arizona Academy of Sciences 8 ( 3 ): 135 - 157. Palynology, University of Arizona : http://geo.arizona.edu/palynology
[3]
The Encyclopaedia Britannica Online : http://www.britannica.com
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  http://www.hon.ch/Library/Theme/Allergy/Glossary/fagaceae.html Last modified: Fri Jun 28 2002