Ohio Buckeye

Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra)

The Ohio Buckeye is sometimes known as the Fetid or Stinking Buckeye because the flowers, bruised bark, and broken twigs give off a disagreeable odor. Nevertheless, the Buckeye is the state tree of Ohio, and the term “Buckeye” became Ohio s official nickname in 1954. I would not call it the “Stinking Buckeye” if I were visiting someone in Ohio.

In the forest the native Ohio Buckeye is found growing on fertile, moist soils of bottomlands and riverbanks. It generally has a short trunk and low branching structure. Ohio Buckeye is a slow-growing, round-headed tree that grows up to 50 feet high. Living in zones 4A to 7A, Ohio Buckeye will grow in full sun or partial shade but should not be exposed to extended drought or excessive heat, two factors which make this tree unsuitable for use as a street tree. The late spring flowers are quite showy, with erect, yellow/green, six-inch high panicles decorating the branches. In some cases the flowers are more of a creamy yellow and lack any fragrance. It is one of the first trees to shed its leaves in autumn, but it puts on a vivid display of bright orange and yellow before the leaves drop. The nuts have husks that are thick, and prickly with spines. Usually a single, rounded, shiny brown seed is produced in each fruit. The fresh seeds of this tree and the Red Buckeye are reported to be poisonous to man but not to squirrels. The Indians powdered the seeds and dumped the powder into small pools. This material would stun the fish and make them rise to the surface, where the Indians quickly collected them. Apparently the powder did not make the fish inedible.

The pioneers favored the Buckeye wood for cabin building and for making furniture. Early settlers cut long, thin shavings, which were then woven into summer hats. Although buckeye wood has in the past been used extensively for making artificial limbs because it is light, easily worked, and resists splitting, it is of little commercial importance now. Because the wood of these trees is soft it is used primarily in making paper pulp. A compound derived from the buckeye, aesculin, is a pharmaceutical, used as an anti-inflammatory.

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