The buckeye tree, also known as the Ohio buckeye tree or American buckeye tree, is a medium-sized deciduous tree native to North America. It is a member of the Horsechestnut family of trees, which has species like the yellow buckeye, red buckeye, bottlebrush buckeye, etc., to its credit. In the United States, this species is most often seen in and around the Midwestern and lower Great Plains regions. Though not abundant, it is also seen growing in southwest Ontario and further south.
Buckeye Tree Facts
The buckeye is the state tree for the state of Ohio, where it is found in abundance. The botanical name for this species is Aesculus glabra, which is derived from Aesculapius―the Greek god of medicine. This species derives its common name from the fact that its glossy nuts resemble the eye of a buck (a male deer) to a great extent. It is believed that the tree got its name from the Native Americans who settled in this region.
As opposed to the bottlebrush buckeye, which seldom grows beyond 5 m, this medium-sized deciduous tree can attain a height of around 15 - 25 m on full growth. Being a deciduous tree, it is known to shed its foliage at the end of the growing season. Its palmate compound leaves have five leaflets, each of which is 8 - 15 cm in length. The flowering season for this species starts in spring, wherein yellowish-green colored flowers, measuring around 2 - 3 cm, grow in clusters on it.
The fact that the stamens of these flowers are longer than their petals is a peculiar characteristic which sets it apart from the Yellow buckeye. Its fruits are usually round or oblong in shape, have a spiny enclosure, and measure around 4 - 5 cm in diameter. Within these fruits, there lie 2 - 3 nuts which are brown in color and have a whitish basal scar, which gives them the appearance of a 'buck eye'. The yellow-green flowers grow on this tree in early spring. The tree can be easily identified by fruits enclosed in a slightly spiny enclosure and the golden-brown husk on its bark.
The uses of different parts of this tree vary; while nuts are used as food, its soft wood is used for making artificial limbs. It's worth noting that the tannic acid in buckeye nuts makes them poisonous and therefore, they need to be blanched to make them edible. It is a popular source of food for Native Americans who prepare a delicacy known as 'hetuk' from it.
The tannic acid removed from these nuts is used in leather-working. Other than these uses, the buckeye is also quite popular when it comes to folklore. While its nuts are considered to bring good luck and wisdom to the person who carries them, some also believe that rubbing them on the site of pain brings relief for people with arthritis.
Growing a Buckeye Tree
Though it grows well in fertile, moist, well-drained soil, it is also known to adapt to average soil. When choosing the sapling, you need to make sure that you choose one which has healthy leaves and plump buds. You also need to make sure that the roots are not too compact. While partially sunny conditions are ideal for their growth, they prefer slightly shaded areas when they are young. If you intend to grow a buckeye in your property, the first step would be to buy a healthy sapling. In the United States, these trees grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 7. When grown in favorable conditions, the buckeye will start producing seeds within 5 - 10 years of planting.
As in case of other deciduous tree species, even the buckeye is a popular contender when it comes to landscaping. If you want a tree for landscaping, the buckeye is your best bet.