Yard & Garden Report


| Share

A Mysterious, Magnificent Tree

The Ohio buckeye will fascinate you with its unusual flowers, leaves and nuts.

Ohio buckeye
Flowers, leaves and nuts of Ohio buckeye, an extraordinary tree.
What is that tree?

That’s a frequently asked question this time of year. People discover clusters of strange, spiny nuts under trees in their neighbor-hood and get curious.

This is the Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra), a mysterious and magnificent tree.

My love for the buckeye started as a college student. Every student in the Tree Identification class was asked to pick a tree on campus and write about it. I wandered the campus of River Falls, Wisconsin looking for something special. Ash and elm trees were everywhere—not special.

Then I saw a small tree with creamy yellow flower spikes (photo). Fascinating! The feathery spikes were not dazzling but they were unique. Their beauty was subtle and drew me near.

A close look of the tree revealed its unusual, tropical-like leaves (photo). Each leaf looked like a palm of a hand with fingers opening. It was striking! It was rare!

Later that fall I stopped by the campus buckeye and my amazement continued. The tree was full of prickly nuts—and squirrels! The nuts were splitting open and seeds were scattered below. The seeds were chocolate brown, lustrous and smooth (photo). I later learned this is how the tree got its name; its seeds had the gleam of a deer buck’s eye. The nuts are toxic, but the squirrels did not mind.

The Ohio buckeye will grow about 30 feet tall and wide. It is hardy to Zone 4. Most landscapers feel the tree is best used as a specimen tree in a large yard or a park.

Many nurseries offer a generic Ohio buckeye, but with a little effort you can find a superior hybrid. These cultivars display more consistent fall color and superior resistance to leaf scorch. ‘Autumn Splendor’ is praised for its glossy green leaves and maroon fall color. ‘Homestead’ has dark red fall color. ‘Prairie Torch’ has flaming orange-red fall foliage (top photo) and is hardy to Zone 3.

If you are looking to add an extraordinary tree in your landscape, consider the magnificent buckeye. 

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, September 12, 2016. Contributing source: M.A. Dirr. 2009. Manual of woody landscape plants. Sixth ed. Stipes Publishing: Champaign, IL. Photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers: Dale Herman, NDSU; R.W. Smith, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Jerry Oldenettel and Fishing Buddy.com

Creative Commons License
Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Creative Commons license and our Rules for Use. Thanks.