Dirt on Gardening

One of my favorite plants in my garden is my bottlebrush buckeye. I enjoy the big spires of white flowers that burst out each summer, looking almost exactly like bottlebrushes.

Buckeyes are native to North America, from the genus Aesculus, and scattered across the U.S. are many different species of buckeye that make great garden companions. Similar to horse chestnuts, which are members of the same genus except native to Europe and Asia, North American buckeyes do not get as large as varieties of horse chestnut, nor do they struggle with the diseases common to chestnuts.

Probably the most recognized of the buckeye trees is the Ohio buckeye, A. glabra. This tree is not known for its blossoms, but it is known for its brilliant fall color. Ohio buckeye ranges from yellow to red in the fall and may be the most spectacular tree on the block. The seeds of the Ohio buckeye are often carried for good luck.

Little known among buckeyes is the Southeastern native, the red buckeye, A. pavia. The red buckeye has remarkable five to 10-inch clusters of red flowers that rise up out of the glossy green leaves. These flowers are known for attracting hummingbirds. The red buckeye has smooth grey bark, colorful fall leaves and reaches 15 to 20 feet in height at maturity. The tree may have a single or multi-stemmed trunk.

The aforementioned bottlebrush buckeye, A. parviflora, is a suckering shrub that gradually spreads to form undulating mounds. The bottlebrush buckeye has fabulous, long, white columns of flowers that bloom in the summer. The bottlebrush buckeye also has a pleasing yellow color in the fall. Although this species of buckeye appears more shrub-like than tree-like, it is very long-lived, and it responds well to pruning if you want to control the size of the tree.

If you’re interested in planting a buckeye tree that will be mighty among the oaks and walnuts in your garden, check out the yellow buckeye, A. flava. This tree reaches 30 to 40 feet in height. Yellow buckeye is cold hardy and disease resistant. Yellow buckeye is dotted with clusters of yellow flowers each spring as the leaves begin to emerge, and the tree also has good fall color.

In addition to these four common, native buckeyes, there are many other buckeyes that have been hybridized for good fall color, great blossoms, size or mixture of all three. Like most natives, buckeyes are relatively easy to grow and tend to be disease resistant.

Buckeyes will grow in a bit of shade. They should be planted in humus rich soil, and once established, they will be drought tolerant. Buckeyes fruit in the fall with a large nut in a soft shell. Squirrels and other animals utilize these nuts as food.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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