Buckeye (Aesculus sp.)
When you think about Buckeye trees you need to include the Horse Chestnuts as they are all in the same Aesculus family. The Buckeye name apparently originates with Native Americans. Because the markings on the nut resemble the eye of a buck, the Indians called it “hetuck” or “buckeye”. William Henry Harrison campaigned and won the presidency in 1840 using a buckeye log cabin and the buckeye nut as part of his campaign paraphernalia. His supporters used canes made of buckeye wood. Kids and many grown men have been to known to keep buckeye or horse chestnut nuts in their pockets as a lucky charm. In England, the horse chestnut is called a “conker” and the nut threaded with a string is the basis for a very popular children s game, called “Conkers”.
The leaves of the various species of these trees are quite similar. The generally large 3 to 6 inch leaves are compound, in the form of a palm with the five or six leaflets spreading out like the fingers of a fat hand. They are dark green. Some members of the family have some fall color and some do not.
All the Buckeyes and Horse Chestnuts have very showy blossoms in the spring. It looks like a shade tree with hundreds of beautiful candles sitting all over the outside of the foliage. On the other end of the season, except for some cultivars, they all produce nuts that look something like chestnuts but are not edible for humans. The nuts and their husks can also be a bit messy in the yard and on the sidewalks and driveways of the home landscape.
The large members of the family, the Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra), the Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), and the Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus octandra) are not really the best choices for the average home landscape. These trees are not for you unless you have a large, open space available. The large leaves and spreading branches mean that little will grow underneath, and a 60 ft tree can shade out much of the modest yard.
For the average yard you will be happier with the more modest sized members of the family, the Red Buckeye (A.pavia), and the Red Horse Chestnut (A. carnea). Cultivars of these trees are more easily found in garden centers and local nurseries.