Trees! In spring, there is nothing better. Buds burst, leaves come out, a crown of green appears. Some trees give even more—fancy flowers, fragrance, even fruit. The Ohio buckeye is one of these. Clusters of yellow-green flowers about 6 inches long cover the tree in the late spring. The familiar buckeye, a shiny, hard, rich brown seed encased in a spine-covered husk, appears in late summer. Large palmate leaves with five fingers start out bright green and mature to dark green. In the fall, your Ohio buckeye might thrill you with rich hues of red and pumpkin-orange, but then again, it might close the show with some mild yellow.
Common name: Ohio buckeye, horse chestnut
Botanical name: Aesculus glabra
Plant type: Deciduous tree
Zones: 3 to 7
Height: 20 to 40 feet
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average, well-drained
• Moisture: Medium to moist
• Mulch: Apply 3 to 6 inches of organic mulch to help the soil retain moisture. Don’t mulch up against the tree trunk, as this encourages rot.
• Pruning: None needed
• Fertilizer: None needed
• By seed
Pests and diseases
• Scale insects, bagworms, and Japanese beetles can be problems.
• Leaf blotch, powdery mildew, rust, and canker can affect the tree.
• The best site for a buckeye is in a woodland setting. The thing that gives buckeye its name is the same thing that makes it a poor choice for small yards or streetside locations: Fruits, twigs, and leaves fall in abundance and make a big mess.
• Buckeye is a dense tree and its branches can be low to the ground, so it’s difficult to grow grass underneath—another reason to keep it in the woods, or at least give it plenty of space to itself.
• Squirrels like the seeds; butterflies like the flowers.
• Because the buckeye has a long taproot, it doesn’t like to be moved. Be sure you are putting it in the right place before you pick up that shovel.
All in the family
• The genus Aesculus is small. Only about 15 species of buckeye exist around the world. In North America, the Ohio buckeye is joined by yellow buckeye (A. flava) and the smaller California buckeye (A. californica), among others. Bottlebrush buckeye (A. parviflora) is a tall shrub found in the southeastern United States, and red buckeye (A. pavia) can be either a large shrub or small tree.
• The cultivar ‘Autumn Splendor’ (Aesculus ‘Autumn Splendor’), named by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in 1980, is popular for its bright burgundy-red fall color and resistance to leaf scorch.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Aesculus ‘Autumn Splendor’ by Tracy Walsh).