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.


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.


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.


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

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.

Pecan Pie Recipe

Whip up this holiday classic using from-the-garden pecans.

Sugar Coated Pecans Recipe

Go nuts with this easy to make sweet-and-salty treat.

The Paper Birch

This cold-hardy American native is a joy to behold in the landscape.

The River Birch

Learn why the southernmost birch is the one most popular for landscaping.

Grow an Olive Tree

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

Japanese Maples: A Guide to Planting and Care

Delicate beauty and vibrant colors make the Japanese maple a coveted choice for landscaping or for containers.

Know Your Tree Roots

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

All About Maples

Randall Hitchin shows several types of maples and how to properly care for them.

Go Shopping

Spruce up your outdoor space with products handpicked by HGTV editors.

Follow Us Everywhere

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