The Horsechestnut Tree

Find out where George Washington planted this native American tree.

Aesculus glabra Ohio Buckeye

Aesculus glabra Ohio Buckeye

The Ohio Buckeye is a well-known variety of Horsechestnuts.

The Ohio Buckeye is a well-known variety of Horsechestnuts.

Horsechestnut (Aesculus spp.) is one of the old common names for the genus that includes “horse chestnuts” of Europe and Asia as well as the “buckeyes” native to North America. Loosely speaking buckeyes are horse chestnuts, but not all horse chestnuts are buckeyes. It has become fairly common to differentiate between “horse chestnuts” and “buckeyes” as the nuts themselves have slightly differing appearances, but then there are slight differences among all the species. Such is the confusion in plant names. By the way none of these are edible in their natural state as true chestnuts are. For clarity’s sake, this article will discuss Aesculus flava (some sources list it as Aesculus octandra), an American native species often called yellow buckeye.

Description

Yellow buckeye (a.k.a. sweet buckeye, big buckeye) is a medium to large deciduous tree, commonly reaching over sixty feet tall with an oval-shaped crown. The dark green leaves in some specimens emerge with a purple tint and turn a rich orange color in fall. The slightly greenish, yellow flowers appear in seven inch panicles in mid spring. The smooth pear-shaped fruits ripen in fall, bearing two seeds each. This variety of “horse chestnut” is useful as a large flowering specimen or shade tree. Hardy in zones 4-8.

Short History

Yellow buckeye is a common species in the mixed hardwood forests of the central and southern Appalachians. It is found from the lowlands along rivers as well as slopes and up to the tops of mountains. It ranges from Pennsylvania to Georgia, westward to Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas.

George Washington is said to have become smitten with a red flowered form of this species near the mouth of the Cheat River in (now) West Virginia while paying a visit to Colonel Morgan Morgan in 1784. He collected seeds from the tree and planted them at Mt. Vernon where the offspring grew, producing several different shades of bloom and varying sizes. These few curious plants inspired a century-long search for the red flowering form of yellow buckeye. As it turns out, it was a naturally occurring hybrid between yellow buckeye and its diminutive southern neighbor the red buckeye (A. pavia). The hybridization of these species can occur with Ruby Throated hummingbird being the pollen carrier as it migrates north in spring.

Although the trees commonly grow tall and straight with clear trunks, the wood is of low value because it is both light and weak, and decays easily. It has been used for crates and boxes for shipping as well as pulpwood, but not aggressively sought even for these purposes.

Planting

Yellow buckeye has its greatest value in large landscapes. Its high degree of pollutant tolerance makes it a good candidate for urban settings. It is very useful in naturalized settings, and while the nuts are not utilized by wildlife, the flowers are a wonderful habitat plant for pollinators. Plant container grown or balled in burlap plants in full to partial sun, in moist, well drained soil.

Maintenance

Mulch well to maintain consistent soil moisture through summer. Little pruning, if any, is required.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Growing Pecan Trees

Find out if planting a pecan tree is the right choice for your yard.

How to Plant and Cultivate Nut Trees

Learn some helpful tips on growing almonds, chestnuts, pecans and hazelnuts.

Know Your Tree Roots

Before selecting new trees for the yard, dig a little deeper to get to the root of the issue.

Grow an Olive Tree

Grow an olive tree and let it take summer vacations outdoors. If your climate is warm, you can even plant it in your garden.

Grow A Little Fruit Tree

Author Ann Ralph shares tips for growing short, space-saving fruit trees in your garden.

Know Your Tree's Roots

Learn more about complex tree root systems.

Grow a Persimmon Tree

Easy to grow and maintain, persimmon trees are cold hardy and bear beautiful fruit in the fall.

Caring for Live Oak Trees

Arborist Chris Heim offers tips for maintaining live oaks to help them thrive in your yard, adding beauty and value to the home landscape.

How Healthy Are Your Trees?

How to spot danger signs and potential problems.

Trees For Winter Bark

Beauty is only skin deep. Learn how to create winter interest with trees that exfoliate beautiful bark.

On TV

Island Life

6:30am | 5:30c

Island Life

7am | 6c

Island Life

7:30am | 6:30c

Fixer Upper

8am | 7c

Fixer Upper

9am | 8c

Fixer Upper

10am | 9c

Fixer Upper

11am | 10c

Fixer Upper

12pm | 11c

Desert Flippers

1:30pm | 12:30c

Desert Flippers

2:30pm | 1:30c

Desert Flippers

3:30pm | 2:30c

Flip or Flop Vegas

4:30pm | 3:30c

Flip or Flop Vegas

5:30pm | 4:30c

Flip or Flop Vegas

6:30pm | 5:30c

House Hunters

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

House Hunters

8pm | 7c

House Hunters

8:30pm | 7:30c

Flip or Flop Vegas

9:30pm | 8:30c

House Hunters

10pm | 9c

House Hunters

11pm | 10c

House Hunters

11:30pm | 10:30c

Flip or Flop Vegas

12:30am | 11:30c

House Hunters

1am | 12c

House Hunters

2:30am | 1:30c

House Hunters

3:30am | 2:30c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.