Unusual Buckeyes for the Landscape
Buckeyes and horse chestnuts are magnificent trees that deserve more prominence in the landscape. They are quite under-utilized and have much to offer. While there are differences between the two groups, they are similar enough that many people tend to refer to all of them as “buckeyes”. Both are in the genus Aesculus and share similar leaf form (compound leaf) and flower form (panicle). Buckeyes tend to have 5 leaflets in their compound leaf while horse chestnut usually (but not always) has 7 leaflets in the leaf. Both produce large showy flowers in the spring and interesting nuts in the fall that are highly prized by squirrels and inquisitive children. A few selections exist that produce no nuts (sterile flowered) or produce very few nuts. These are desirable selections should the nuts be a problem at the growing site (near side walks or patios). Here are three of my favorite buckeyes:
Yellow Buckeye - Aesculus octandra
A very large growing buckeye often reaching 70’ in height. It is a fairly fast growing tree that can have yellow to orange fall leaf color. The large dark green leaves are fairly disease resistant. The seeds are produced inside a smooth skinned capsule. This capsule (husk) usually contains two seeds. The smooth skin of the capsule is a key identification feature as most buckeyes have spiny seed capsules. Yellow buckeye is an exception in the buckeye group because of its immense height. Most buckeyes tend to be shorter in stature.
Sunset™ Buckeye - Aesculus glabra 'Sunset'
This is a Johnson’s Nursery selection made my Michael Yanny, our plant propagator. This selection was chosen for its excellent orange-red fall leaf color. It tends to produce very few nuts unless another ohio buckeye is nearby to pollinate it. Usually grows about 35’ tall.
Ft. McNair Buckeye - Aesculus x carnea 'Ft. McNair
Very showy pink flowers. The foliage has good leaf blotch resistance. Selected near Washington D.C. Excellent substitute for red flowering buckeyes (‘Briottii’, A. pavia ect) in our area as they are not as winter hardy as Ft. McNair. This selection grows 30’ tall x 25’ wide. When in bloom, it never fails to draw compliments from people visiting our nursery at such an opportune time.
Paul Schwabe is a salesman in our Contractor Sales division. He holds a degree in horticulture and will be writing about some of his favorite and underused plants.