red buckeye

Aesculus pavia

Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia), is a small deciduous tree or shrub native to the southern and eastern parts of the United States, found from Illinois to Virginia in the north and from Texas to Florida in the south.

It has a number of local names, such as scarlet buckeye, woolly buckeye and firecracker plant.

The Red Buckeye is a large shrub or small tree. It reaches a height of 5-8 m, often growing in a multi-stemmed form. Its leaves are opposite, and are usually composed of five elliptical serrated leaflets, each 10-15 cm long. It bears 10-17 cm long clusters of attractive dark red tubular flowers, each in April to May. The flowers are hermaphrodite. The smooth light brown fruits, about 3 cm in diameter, reach maturity in September and October.

There are two varieties:

  • Aesculus pavia var. pavia: typical Red Buckeye.
  • Aesculus pavia var. flavescens: yellow-flowered Red Buckeye.

The yellow-flowered variety, var. flavescens, is found in higher country in Texas, and hybrids with intermediate flower color occur.

The flowers are attractive to hummingbirds as well as bees. The fruits are rich in saponins, which are poisonous to humans, though not particularly dangerous because they are not easily ingested. The oils can be extracted to make soap, though this is not commercially viable.

Ornamental cultivars such as the low-growing 'Humilis' have been selected for garden use.

Red Buckeye has hybridised with Common Horse-chestnut (A. hippocastanum) in cultivation, the hybrid being named Red Horse-chestnut Aesculus × carnea. The hybrid is a medium-size tree to 20-25 m tall, intermediate between the parent species in most respects, but inheriting the red flower color from A. pavia. It is a popular tree in large gardens and parks, most commonly the selected cultivar 'Briotii'. Hybrids of Red Buckeye with Yellow Buckeye (A. flava) have also been found, and named Aesculus × hybrida.

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