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Southern beeches
Temporal range: 72–0 Ma
Late Campanian–Present
Roble (Nothofagus obliqua).JPG
The roble beech (Nothofagus obliqua) from South America
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Fagales
Family: Nothofagaceae
Genus: Nothofagus
Nothofagus Distribution.svg
The range of Nothofagus.
  • Fagaster Spach
  • Cliffortioides Dryand. ex Hook.
  • Myrtilloides Banks & Sol. ex Hook.
  • Calucechinus Hombr. & Jacquinot ex Decne. in J.S.C.Dumont d'Urville
  • Calusparassus Hombr. & Jacquinot ex Decne. in J.S.C.Dumont d'Urville
  • Lophozonia Turcz.
  • Trisyngyne Baill.
Shoots, leaves, and cupules of N. obliqua

Nothofagus, also known as the southern beeches, is a genus of 36 species of trees and shrubs native to the Southern Hemisphere in southern South America (Chile, Argentina) and Australasia (east and southeast Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and New Caledonia). The species are ecological dominants in many temperate forests in these regions. Some species are reportedly naturalized in Germany and Great Britain.[2] The genus has a rich fossil record of leaves, cupules and pollen, with fossils extending into the late Cretaceous and occurring in Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and South America.[3] Fossils have recently been found in Antarctica.[4] In the past, they were included in the family Fagaceae, but genetic tests by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group revealed them to be genetically distinct, and they are now included in their own family, the Nothofagaceae (literally meaning "false beeches" or "bastard beeches").[5]

The leaves are toothed or entire, evergreen or deciduous. The fruit is a small, flattened or triangular nut, borne in cupules containing two to seven nuts.

Nothofagus species are used as food plants by the larvae of hepialid moths of the genus Aenetus, including A. eximia and A. virescens.

Many individual trees are extremely old, and at one time, some populations were thought to be unable to reproduce in present-day conditions at the location where they were growing, except by suckering (clonal reproduction), being remnant forest from a cooler time. Sexual reproduction has since been shown to be possible,[6] but distribution in cool, isolated, high-altitude environments at temperate and tropical latitudes is consistent with the theory that the genus was more prolific in a cooler age.[7]


The genus is classified in these sections:[8]

Sect. Brassospora (type Nothofagus brassi)
Sect. Fuscospora (type Nothofagus fusca)
Beech trees in New Zealand
Sect. Lophozonia (type Nothofagus menziesii)
Sect. Nothofagus (type Nothofagus antarctica)
Section uncertain

It was recently proposed that the generic classification of the Nothofagaceae should be revised, with the four subgenera elevated to full genera.[11] This proposed change is not taxonomically essential and it remains to be seen if this work will gain wide acceptance.[2]

The Nothofagus plant genus illustrates Gondwanan distribution, having originated on the supercontinent and persisting in current day Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Argentina, and Chile. Recently, fossils also have been found in Antarctica.[12]


The pattern of distribution around the southern Pacific Rim suggests the dissemination of the genus dates to the time when Antarctica, Australia, and South America were connected in a common land-mass or supercontinent referred to as Gondwana.[13]

In South America the northern genus limit can be construed as La Campana National Park and the Vizcachas Mountains in the central part of Chile.[14]

Beech mast[edit]

Every four to six years or so, Nothofagus produces a heavier crop of seeds and is known as the beech mast. In New Zealand, the beech mast causes an increase in the population of introduced mammals such as mice, rats, and stoats. When the rodent population collapses, the stoats begin to prey on native bird species, many of which are threatened with extinction.[15] This phenomenon is covered in more detail in the article on stoats in New Zealand.

See also[edit]

  • Cyttaria, genus of ascomycete fungi found on or associated with Nothofagus
  • Misodendrum, specialist parasites of Nothofagus


  1. ^ Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2009). "An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III" (PDF). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161 (2): 105–121. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.00996.x. Retrieved 2013-06-26. 
  2. ^ a b c Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  3. ^ Hill, Robert (2001). "Biogeography, evolution and palaeoecology of Nothofagus (Nothofagaceae): The contribution of the fossil record.". Australian Journal of Botany. doi:10.1071/BT00026. 
  4. ^ Li, H. M.; Zhou, Z. K. (2007). "Fossil nothofagaceous leaves from the Eocene of western Antarctica and their bearing on the origin, dispersal and systematics of Nothofagus". Science China Earth Sciences 50 (10): 1525–1535. doi:10.1007/s11430-007-0102-0. 
  5. ^ Manos, Paul (1997). "Phylogenetic analyses of 'higher' Hamamelididae based on plastid sequence data". American Journal of Botany. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Dawson, J. W. (1966). "Observations on Nothofagus in New Caledonia". Tuatara 14 (1). 
  8. ^ Nothofagus website (in French)
  9. ^ Neogene Period (23–0.05 mya)
  10. ^ Nothofagus beardmorensis Nothofagaceae, a new species based on leaves from the Pliocene Sirius Group, Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica
  11. ^ Heenan, P.B.; Smissen, R.D. 2013: Revised circumscription of Nothofagus and recognition of the segregate genera Fuscospora, Lophozonia, and Trisyngyne (Nothofagaceae). Phytotaxa, 146(1): 1-31. doi:10.11646/phytotaxa.146.1.1
  12. ^ H.M. Li and Z.K. Zhou (2007) Fossil nothofagaceous leaves from the Eocene of western Antarctica and their bearing on the origin, dispersal and systematics of Nothofagus. Science in China. 50(10): 1525-1535.
  13. ^ Native Forest Network (2003) Gondwana Forest Sanctuary
  14. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) Chilean Wine Palm: Jubaea chilensis,, ed. Nicklas Stromberg
  15. ^ "Beech forest: Native plants". Department of Conservation. Retrieved 26 August 2012.