Aesculus pavia Red Buckeye A Love Ehh Relationship Native Plant Wildlife Gardening

 Aesculus pavia Red Buckeye A Love Ehh Relationship Native Plant Wildlife Gardening

Every spring I fall in love with my native Red Buckeye Aesculus pavia. When I am desperate for a leaf, any leaf, she comes back first with large, dramatic buds. Nothing else is showing signs of life except the fairy sized footballs on the red buckeye.

And soon, when the maples are just flowering, lovely bronze/red/olive green leaves show up overnight on the buckeye.

The new leaves have a beautiful texture and are deeply ridged. I’m in love.

Then in early spring, showy red flowers appear. They are about 10′′ long and plentiful. In shade, the color is deep and stunning. The blooms are high profile and you can see them from a good distance. They just shine. ‘Pop’ and all that coveted stuff.

Aesculus pavia Red buckeye is native to the eastern United States, from Texas to Illinois, Virginia to Florida (See USDA plant profile for a map). It is a fast growing, large shrub or open small tree that reaches about 8-10 ft’ in height. Red buckeye is very easy to grow, needing shade or semi shade in moist loamy soil. Supposedly it prefers a neutral or basic pH however mine is doing just ducky in pine woods. It doesn’t get much more acid than Georgia soil. Like many native plants it’s low maintenance and with the exception of summer watering I do nothing to this plant. It requires no pruning, nor do I fertilize but it does well without. The seeds germinate easily and you will get a few baby plants but most often the nuts are eaten so quickly by wildlife that the seeds don’t stand much of a chance. It won’t be all over your property. While Aesculus pavia does not need to be a bog plant they do require water as Red buckeye will lose their leaves in midsummer without sufficient rainfall. Which brings me to the “Ehh” part.

Keep your Red buckeye in the shade. It will get leaf scorch and look Ehh. While it’s the first to show up in the spring, it’s the first to go in the fall. By late summer/ early fall this is not the best looking shrub in the yard. By August the leaves have all dropped. I wouldn’t call it a “front of the border” plant. At this time I’m thinking, “Ehh, that thing looks like rat’s behind and I’m not feeling the love.”

In a habitat garden the early spring flowers are an important food source for migrating hummingbirds, bees and early butterflies. Yes the bees can get in those tubular flowers. I’ve seen them drill tiny holes at the base to get to pollen. Oh those crafty bees. In the fall the buckeye nuts, or seed pods, are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks and other small mammals. The nuts don’t last long on mine. Don’t eat them yourself, folks, they are poisonous.

And by the end of August my red buckeye is just twigs and I’m loving on some other plant, Aesculus pavia forgotten. But when spring comes, once again she will be completely WOW! and steal the show in my habitat. She reminds me that yes, indeed, she is one of my favorites and I will always love Red buckeye. I wouldn’t be without it.

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