yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava)
Aesculus octandra Marsh.
Aesculus octandra Marsh. var. vestita Sarg.
Aesculus octandra Marsh. var. virginica Sarg.
Aesculus is another of the classical names for an oak tree. Flava trans-
lates as "yellow", referring to the floral color. Formerly known as Aesculus
octandra, where the specific epithet translates as "with eight stamens",
referring to the pollen-bearing structures.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for yellow buckeye
is Aesculus flava Aiton.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACERISTICS: Yellow buckeye is
typically quite straight tree with an upright oval growth habit, 50 to 80 feet
tall with hanging branches. Trunk diameter is generally 1 to 2 feet at maturity.
The bark is light gray-brown, often quite splotchy, and smooth on small
trees, developing large scaly patches and plated as the tree ages, some-
times with "bull's-eye" grooves in the bark, particularly on large trees. The
twigs are stout, with a large shield-shaped leaf scar, orangish lenticels.
Terminal buds are orangish brown and quite large (1/2 to 3/4 inch) with a
sharp point; the lateral buds are much smaller. The leaves are opposite,
deciduous, palmately compound, 10 to 15 inches long, with 5 (sometimes 7)
elliptical to obovate leaflets, each 3 to 7 inches long, sharply serrate, with
the petiole as long as leaflet. The leaves taper gradually to a pointed apex
with more or less concave sides along the tip. The leaves are medium to
dark green above and paler below with with fall colors a subdued yellow-
orange to yellow-brown. Yellow buckeye is not as susceptible to unsightly
leaf scorch, leaf spot, leaf blotch, and powdery mildew as other Aesculus.
The inflorescense is yellow-green, about 7" long by 3" wide, composed of
an upright panicle of many solitary flowers, occuring in mid-May, with the
inflorescence rising clearly above the expanded foliage. Flowers are mono-
ecious, pale yellow-orange, tubular, with stamens shorter than petals,
occurring in large showy upright clusters, 4 to 8 inches in length, appearing
in late spring. The fruit is smooth, thick, with leathery husks enclosing 1 to
3 smooth chestnut-brown, shiny poisonous seeds with a large, whitish to
lighter brown "buck eye" spot on one side. The fruit develops on a stout,
terminal stalk and appear as small pear-shaped "potatoes". The capsules
split open in September or October.
REGENERATION PROCESSES: Yellow buckeye propagats itself primar-
ily by seeds. The seed germinates almost immediately and must is suspect-
able to severe weather. The seed has a very limited viability and will not
germinate if the seeds dry out.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Yellow buckeye prefers full sun to partial
sun (partial shade tolerant in youth). It performs best in moist, rich, well-
drained, deep, and slightly acidic soils. Like most buckeyes, it performs
poorly in poor soils, clay soils, dry soils, and in polluted areas, and is some-
what tolerant of neutral to alkaline pH soils and tolerates briefly wet soils.
Yellow buckeye tolerates urban stresses much better than other buckeyes
or horsechestnuts, and as such makes the best member of the genus Aesculus
to plant in urban areas as a shade tree.
SUCCESSONAL STATUS: When young, yellow buckeye develops slowly
and produces only one growth flush per year. As noted above, it is often at a
competitive disadvantage wiht other species in the early stages of succes-
sional development. However, yellow buckeye grows well in a woodland
situation, tolerating shading by larger trees. It is best observed in mature
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Yellow buckeye generally begins flower-
ing by mid-May and contunues to June, while the seeds ripen in September.
Capsules split open in September or October.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Yellow buckeye is a species almost exclu-
sively found east of the Mississippi/Missouri Rivers, ranging from Georgia
to Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANTS COMMUNITIES: Yellow buckeye
is found in rich river-bottoms and mountain slopes usually in a woodland
community on moist rich soils. This species is primarily found in the south-
ern Appalachian Mountains where it usually occurs as an occasional tree
in mixed hardwood stands.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Flowers are source of nectar for bees.
Yellow buckeye has been used extensively for ornamental purposes. How-
ever, it is not recommended as a street tree or for use near homes because
of the litter produced (particularly twigs, fruit and falling leaves). It is con-
sidered a good selection for more remote areas of the landscape including
native plant and moist woodland areas. It does well in urban settings, includ-
ing parks and large landscape gardens and is recommended for buffer strips
around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway.
The seeds of the buckeye are traditionally carried around by people living
in the Appalachian Mountains as a good luck charm and were once thought
to protect against rheumatism.
Saponins in the seed are used as a soap substitute. The saponins can be
easily obtained by chopping the seed into small pieces and infusing them
in hot water. This water can then be used for washing the body, clothes etc.
Its main drawback is a lingering odour of horse chestnuts. The wood is very
soft, light, close grained, difficult to split and weighs 27lb per cubic foot. It is
used for making artificial limbs, wooden ware, and pulp, and is occasionally
sawn into lumber, usually for boxes.
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