On the southeast side of the Myrtle S. Holden Wildflower Garden is a small charming Aesculus x hybrida (buckeye tree). Its leaves begin to unfold in early April and by the end of the month, its first flowers start to open. The showy bloom lasts for most of the month on May. Ruby-throated hummingbirds visit the flowers, which are also pollinated by a number of bees. Baltimore orioles are often seen in and around this tree in May when the lilacs are also in bloom in the nearby Display Garden.
Its flower color is a light orange-red. The foliage is fairly deep green right through August, being resistant to leaf blotch and scorch. In September the leaves are no longer in perfect condition and they fall by the end of the month. Also in September, the smooth-husked fruit open and the shiny dark brown buckeyes weighing down the branches drop. Although buckeye seeds are poisonous to us and to livestock, squirrels gather and cache them for the coming winter.
This naturally occurring hybrid between Aesculus flava and A. pavia (the yellow and red buckeyes), was collected as seed from a yellow buckeye in Lake Hope Park, Vinton County, Ohio by Holden’s Brian Parsons and Tom Yates in September 1984. Its seven siblings, raised at our nursery and planted in the gardens, all turned out to be yellow buckeye. Although red buckeye is not native to Ohio, its pollen can be transported north by migrating hummingbirds.
George Washington discovered Aesculus x hybrida in Morgantown, West Virginia, bringing seeds back to Mount Vernon in 1784. In 2000, Holden staff saw old, 30’-40’ tall, trees in bloom at Mount Vernon whose flowers matched the flowers of our tree perfectly. The Mount Vernon trees were labeled Aesculus octandra var. virginica (a synonym of A. x hybrida).
Our tree is 24 feet tall by 27 feet wide. It has been propagated by grafting and distributed for evaluation. A preliminary report from Ed Hasselkus at the University of Wisconsin has been positive.
In 2002 our Aesculus x hybrida was hand-pollinated with red buckeye pollen. The resulting seedlings that have displayed good foliage and showy red flowers have been selected. They will be planted in our Specimen Tree Collection and repropagated by grafting for distribution. Perhaps we should name one of them ‘Ruby’.