By: Liz Baessler
Red buckeye trees are relatively easy to care for, medium sized trees or shrubs that produce showy red flowers in the spring. Keep reading to learn more about red buckeye tree care and red buckeye tree growth.
What is a red buckeye tree? Red buckeye trees (Aesculus pavia) are North American natives from southern Missouri. They grow in USDA zones 4 through 8. For several weeks in the spring the trees produce bright red panicles of tube-shaped flowers. The flowers have no real scent, but they are striking in color and very attractive to hummingbirds.
Once the flowers fade, they are replaced by dry, round, orange fruits. These fruits are toxic to both animals and humans. Keep this in mind when choosing a planting location. The trees produce a lot of fruit, and when it drops it can be a nuisance to clean up and a real danger to pets and children.
Red buckeye trees are deciduous, but their leaves aren’t showy in the fall. They barely change color and drop relatively early.
Planting a red buckeye tree is relatively easy. The trees can be grown very successfully from seed and should bloom within three years.
Red buckeye tree growth is best in rich soil that is well drained but moist. The trees do not handle drought well.
They will grow in both shade and sun, but they’ll stay smaller and won’t fill out as nicely in the shade. In sun, the trees tend to grow between 15 and 20 feet in height, though they will sometimes reach as high as 35 feet.
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The buckeye tree certainly inspires.
The tree’s iconic nut inspired two students to create the wildly popular mascot Brutus Buckeye in 1965, and who hasn’t found the sweet satisfaction of a buckeye recreated as the addictive chocolate and peanut butter treat?
If you want to add this piece of Ohio lore to your landscaping, take some advice from Paul Snyder, a program coordinator at Ohio State’s Secrest Arboretum, and Kathy Smith, a forestry program director in Ohio State’s School of Environment and Natural Resources.
You might be wondering why this species is called the Buckeye tree. Well, this plant got its title due to the nuts that similar to the tone and appearance of a deer’s eye.
The Buckeye tree is deciduous, meaning it sheds its leaves seasonally. It also has opposite leaves with leaflets radiating from a point that looks like spread fingers on a hand.
Moreover, the flowers have four or five fused petals, and they are bisexual.
Besides having striking leaves and flowers, the Buckeye tree also has distinctive fruits that come in the shape of dry capsules with hard leathery husks.
Some of the husks can be smooth while others might be weakly spiny. The fruits of this plant will turn brown in fall.
They will split into three parts, and show one to three glossy brown seeds. Bear in mind that they are not edible, so it can be dangerous if you insist on consuming them.
Although the wood is pale and light, which is not suitable for making furniture, you can use it for paper, craft, and novelty item production.
The Buckeye tree is one of the first plants whose flowers bloom in early spring. Later, you will find green fruits to replace them in the summer. Eventually, it drops its foliage as soon as the fall comes.
Most Buckeye trees are small and even considered as a shrub. However, some species like the Yellow variety can reach a height of more than 50 feet, making it become an inappropriate option for a yard with limited space.
The buckeye tree is a common sight in many parts of central and eastern America. It is often found in public spaces like parks. This slow-growing deciduous tree is so-named because the fruit resembles a deer's eye. Its wood is used to make veneer, crates and toys. The leaves, fruit and bark contain a poisonous sap which if ingested can cause vomiting, diarrhea and paralysis. The tree grows best in loose, well-drained soils. Below are some care guidelines to help you grow a healthy buckeye.
Give your buckeye seedling plenty of water in the early growth phase. This will encourage roots to establish themselves deeply and extensively. Give the tree water once a week so that soils can be consistently moist at all times. However, be careful to avoid creating wet soils as this will cause the roots to suffocate. Proper root establishment will be prevented by wet soils. Once the roots are well-established you can cut back considerably on watering. Buckeyes are fairly hardy and do not require much water once mature. However, be sure to water your tree during drought periods or very hot weather bouts to sustain its good health.
Apply fertilizer regularly during the first few years. The trees are heavy feeders during the early growth phase. Give the tree a liquid fertilizer when you transplant or when the seeds sprout. Maintain a monthly feeding schedule for the first 2 years. Once the roots are well established you can give fertilizer once every 6 months. Beyond 4 or 5 years, no fertilizer is needed.
Mulch your buckeye tree in the summer and winter. It is best to use organic material such as dried grass or sawdust. This will add to the nutritive content of the soil as it decomposes. Mulch will help maintain the soil temperature within an ideal range. It will also prevent frost heave during the winter. Place 3 inches onto the soil but leave adequate space around the tree stems. This will enable proper breathing without hindrances. Remove the mulch once the ground has thawed in the spring.
Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight will scorch your buckeye leaves. Provide some shade or screen from the afternoon light, especially during the summer.
Buckeyes are generally slow-growing trees. If you trim them while young, you are unlikely to trim again soon because of the slow growth rate. It is best to trim in late spring. Trim the trees while still young to encourage a better shape. Use loppers to cut off thinner branches while thicker branches will require a pruning saw. Branches that are extremely large will require a chain saw. Cut off branches that cross into others or those that appear awkward. Do not clip off the branch tips but cut where the branch sprouts from the trunk. Be careful not to cut into the trunk or tear at the bark. Should you spot branches or plant parts that are diseased, broken or damaged, cut them off too. This will help check spread of disease. It will also pave the way for newer, healthier growth to appear.
But why "buckeye"? This tree actually gets its name from the whitish scar found on each brown seed. It is said to give the seed the appearance of a deer's eye.
Hippocastanaceae (horse chestnuts)
Red buckeye is a shrub or (less often) a small tree with a rather dense crown and short branches.
Leaves are opposite, palm-shaped compound with 5 leaflets leaflets 3–6 inches long, lance-shaped or inverted egg-shaped, coarsely toothed upper surface shiny, dark green, smooth with a few hairs on the veins lower surface paler, ranging from smooth to having matted hairs.
Bark is smooth on young branches on old trunks roughened into short plates that flake off in small, thin scales.
Twigs are green, gray or brown, drooping with upcurved ends.
Flowers April–June, clustered along an axis 4–8 inches long flowers red, ¾–1½ inches long, tube-shaped with 2 upright and 2 lateral petal lobes unequal in length stamens mostly shorter than the upper petal lobes.
Fruits September–November, 1–2 inches wide, leathery, somewhat globe- or egg-shaped, light brown, smooth, finely pitted, splitting into 3 parts seeds 1–3, rounded or flattened by pressure against each other, shiny, light to dark brown.
Similar species: Red buckeye and Ohio buckeye are both found in Missouri. You can distinguish red buckeye by its having usually 5 leaflets (not 7), its red (not greenish-yellow) flowers, and the absence of any spines on its fruit hulls. Although both buckeyes are cultivated statewide, red buckeye grows in the wild only in our southeastern counties.