Christmas in June comes when the bottlebrush buckeye blooms. Fluffy white 1-foot-long flower spikes cover a mountain of glossy, dark green leaves, and zooming hummingbirds and butterflies complete the spectacle. This large, spreading shrub grows wild in the deep woods of the southeastern United States, where it is an understory plant. The GreatPlants program of Nebraska named this shade-lover the 2010 shrub of the year for its beautiful blossoms, hardiness, and year-round interest. Fall color is often bright yellow, depending on the site, and in the southern parts of the bottlebrush buckeye’s range, fruit appears in September or October—glossy buckeyes in smooth, brown, pear-shaped husks.
Common name: Bottlebrush buckeye
Botanical name: Aesculus parviflora
Plant type: Deciduous shrub
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 8 to 12 feet tall
• Sun: Part shade to full shade
• Soil: Rich and humusy
• Moisture: Average to moist
• Mulch: Mulch to help keep soil moist.
• Pruning: None needed
• Fertilizer: None needed
• By seed or suckers
Pests and diseases
• Japanese beetles and scale insects may be problems.
• May be vulnerable to powdery mildew, canker, anthracnose, and rust.
• Bottlebrush buckeye grows down to the ground, and it’s very dense, so unlike some deciduous shrubs, it’s not a good candidate for underplanting.
• The mature bush can get very large, and is at its best when allowed to sprawl and spill over the landscape. Plant it in a place where its natural vigor and size is an asset.
• The fruit of bottlebrush buckeye is not edible. All parts of the plant can cause mild stomach upset.
All in the family
• The genus Aesculus contains only about 15 species. They’re found in Europe, Asia, and North America.
• Sapindaceae, the soapberry family, includes roughly 150 genera, including one very familiar to gardeners: maples (Acer spp.).
Where to buy
• Nearly Native Nursery, Fayetteville, GA, 770-460-6284, www.nearlynativenursery.com.
• Rare Find Nursery, Jackson, NJ, 732-833-0613, www.rarefindnursery.com.
• Whitman Farms, Salem, OR, 503-585-8728, www.whitmanfarms.com.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Aesculus parviflora courtesy of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.)