Red buckeye

Aesculus pavia
Family: Sapindaceae

Natural History
Leaves and inflorescence of red buckeye
Photo credit: Niels Proctor, University of Florida

Red buckeye is a shrub or small understory tree that may reach 20-30 feet in height. It is characterized by opposite, palmately-compound leaves and attractive, upright clusters of dark red flowers. The plant is most noticeable in early- to mid-spring when the leaves are emerging and the flowers are blooming. There is no significant fall color and the leaves generally fall off early, before the arrival of cold weather.

Habitat & Range

Red buckeye grows in mesic woodlands, bottomlands, streambanks, hammocks, and parts of floodplains that are rarely and briefly flooded. It is commonly found in the understory of beech-magnolia forests or on bluffs along wooded streams.  It grows on the Atlantic coastal plain from southeastern North Carolina to central Florida; west to central Texas; north to southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and northwestern Georgia.

Wildlife Use

Red buckeyes are often among the first red, tubular flowers to bloom in the spring which makes them important to certain pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds. The seeds are bitter and poisonous, making the fruits only a minor food source for small mammals.

Human Use

It is thought American Indians added a powder made from red buckeye seeds and branches to pools of water to stupefy fish. Pioneers also found the tree useful to make home remedies and a soap substitute. It is often used in hummingbird gardens and as a handsome ornamental in parks and on lawns.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Commonly a small 8-15 feet tree or shrub, but can reach up to 30 feet tall
Leaves: The leaves are palmately-compound, opposite, and deciduous. There are 5 (sometimes 7) leaflets per leaf. The leaflets are oval to elliptic in shape, with an acute apex and a tapered base. Leaf margins are irregularly serrate or doubly serrate. The leaf surfaces are dark green and glabrous or sparsely pubescent above, slightly paler below. Petioles are stout at the base, tapering slightly to the leaflets, and are 3-5 inches long.
Twigs: The twigs are stout, dark reddish-brown, and pubescent at first, becoming gray and glabrous. The pith is small, white, and homogeneous.
Bark: The bark is gray-brown or dark brown. light brown, flaky bark
Flowers: The flowers are tubular, dark red, and very showy. They are borne in the springtime in upright panicles.
Fruit: The fruit is a small, brown, leathery capsule, 1-2 inches in diameter. The seeds inside are bitter and poisonous.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
  • None. This is the only tree on our list that has palmately compound leaves.

 

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