The red beech at the "Montagna di Torricchio", Marche region, central Italy.
For many centuries, red beech [(Fagus sylvatica L. var. purpurea) (Ait.) Schneid.] was known as a botanical abnormality in botanical gardens and arboretums. Widespread artificially, red beech trees have been exploited for cultural, landscaping and botanical purposes, showing a wide horticultural, silvicultural and arboricultural interest. Over time, they may have escaped from cultivations or have been incorporated into forests by secondary successions, showing an important ecological and forestry interest. Red beeches represent a complex of phenotypes described under systematic critical taxa, showing an important floristic and taxonomic interest. Samples of red beech were found in nature, in central Adriatic Italy, in a fully protected area, namely the "Riserva Naturale Statale Montagna di Torricchio". In order to analyse the origin of this odd shape beech variation, an interdisciplinary study was carried out integrating geography, ecology and forestry, analysing the bibliography, archival data, leaf traits, potential vegetation and the issues concerning the human-ecology relation. The results we obtained showed no evidence of artificial or accidental introduction for these specimens, suggesting treating them as a native and natural mutation in the beech forest secondary succession. The study of the natural beech forms variation could foster in some way research activities and land management actions on this issue; with some outlook on biodiversity studies, environmental policies, horticulture, forestry and ecological importance. The results allow us to propose a reflexion on the native/non-native status, and about the systematic position of beech forms; fostering reflections about the taxonomical position of the red beech and proposing the variety rank for the red beech specimens. The presence of these specimens in the study area, allows us to make some reflections in order to be more careful in negative considerations about exotic (or presumed) taxa, taking into account the repercussions on environment and biodiversity management. These red beeches can be used to strengthen the genetic pool of existing specimens that are actually used, and vegetatively propagated in nurseries.