Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 268 Aesculus pavia

Common Names: red buckeye Family: Hippocastanaceae (horse chestnut Family)
Image Gallery

red buckeye flowers
Red buckeye flowers provide an elegant dining venue for hungry hummingbirds.
red buckeye flowers
Close inspection reveals that the red buckey blossoms appear to be custom designed for hummingbird beaks.

Description

Red buckeye is usually a single stemmed, rather open small tree only 8-10 ft (2.4-3 m) tall, although they have been known (rarely) to reach over 30 ft (9 m) in height. The attractive leaves, 5-10 in (12.7-25.4 cm) across, are palmately compound with five (occasionally seven) serrated leaflets radiating from the ends of 4-6 in (10-12.7 cm) petioles (leaf stems). They are velvety purple-green at first unfolding. The showy red flowers are arranged in 4-10 in (10-25.4 cm) terminal spikes (called racemes) and appear along with the leaves in early spring. The fruit is a smooth, thin-walled capsule, 2-3 in (5-7.6 cm) in diameter containing 1-3 poisonous seeds that look very much like chestnuts. There are two varieties recognized: The typical variety, Aesculus pavia var. pavia, has tubular flowers about 1.5 in (3.8 cm) long with the stamens extending a little beyond the tube; they are pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds. Aesculus pavia var. flavescens has yellow flowers, not quite as elongate, and the stamens do not extend beyond the tube; they are pollinated by bumblebees.

A few cultivars have been selected. 'Atrosanguinea" has dark crimson flowers; 'Alba' has white flowers; 'Humilis' is low-growing, nearly prostrate, with smaller flowers. Several hybrids between and among red buckeye, yellow buckeye (A. flava), common horsechestnut (A. hippocastanum), and Ohio buckeye (A. glabra) have been developed by horticulturists. One of the most popular (especially in Europe) is red horsechestnut (A. X carnea), a cross between red buckeye and common horsechestnut.

young red buckeye leaves
The young leaves of red buckeye emerge a striking purple-bronze color that transforms to green as the foliage enlarges and matures.

Location

Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, occurs in mesic woods and ravines from North Carolina to central Florida and west to southern Illinois and eastern Texas. It usually is found in the understory of beech-magnolia forests or on bluffs along wooded streams.


Culture

The fast-growing red buckeye is very easy to grow. The seeds will germinate as soon as they ripen. Seedlings begin flowering in two or three years. Red buckeye can tolerate brief flooding and considerable shade. Buckeyes do best in rich loamy soil, with a neutral or even basic pH. Add lime if your soil is acidic. Within their native range buckeyes shouldn't need supplemental watering or feeding and they don't have pest or disease problems. Light: Red buckeye does well in shade or semi-shade. However it will develop a fuller crown and produce more flowers in full sun. On the other hand, it will lose it's leaves by late summer (instead of mid autumn) when growing in full sun. Moisture: Established specimens can survive any drought that occurs within the natural range, but they often lose their leaves in midsummer if there is not sufficient rainfall. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Red buckeye occurs naturally in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 9A, but it is cultivated as far north as zone 5, possibly to zone 4. Sometimes the flowers, which emerge in very early spring, get killed by late freezes. Propagation: By seeds which sometimes begin to germinate even before they drop off the tree. The cultivars should be started from cuttings or grafted onto seedlings.

Usage

Plant some red buckeyes in the filtered shade of a large live oak or some pines, or in front of the wooded edge of your yard. They go well with oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), and wake-robin trillium (Trillium underwoodii), two other southeastern natives that do best in shade with limy, calcareous soils.

Red buckeye is so fast growing, and it flowers so soon after planting, that it is an ideal tree for a child to plant (but note Warning below).

red buckeyes
The outer husk splits to reveal the ripe shiny red buckeyes within.

Features

Red buckeye has the first red tubular flowers to bloom in spring, which makes it very important to returning hummingbirds and the season's first butterflies. And, red buckeyes are among the first woody plants to decline at the end of the season, the leaves usually withering and dropping before the end of August. It is reported that the Cherokees used to carry the buckeye nut around for good luck and to prevent rheumatism.

Warning

They may look like chestnuts, but the seeds are deadly poisonous if eaten!

Steve Christman 8/1/97; updated 2/19/00, 9/29/03



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Aesculus species profiled on Floridata:


Aesculus flava

( yellow buckeye, sweet buckeye )

Aesculus hippocastanum

( common horsechestnut )

Aesculus parviflora

( bottlebrush buckeye )

Aesculus pavia

( red buckeye )

Aesculus x carnea

( red horsechestnut )

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