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Every week, we will spotlight a native species for Lake Guntersville State Park that is blooming now!
This week's selection is.......
Red Buckeye – Aesculus pavia
Red Buckeye is a gorgeous native shrub/small tree that can grow 25 to 30 feet tall, either single trunk or multi-stemmed. It is really starting to pop right now along Highway 227 and along the Cutchenmine trail here at Lake Guntersville State Park. The Red Buckeye was chosen as a 1995 Gold Medal Plant by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for being a plant of exceptional merit, but sadly, underused in landscaping. It makes a beautiful addition to any Alabama landscape.
It is one of the most important nectar sources for our arriving hummingbirds. You can tell from the shape of the blooms that they were made for each other! The long, tubular flowers are just the right length for hummingbirds, excluding other pollinators that would not prove as beneficial to this lovely spring bloomer, though some species of bees can wiggle their way into the bloom to get to the nectar & transfer the pollen.
Red Buckeye is in the Horse Chestnut family, which includes the other tree species of Buckeyes, and as such, the seeds are considered to be poisonous – so do NOT attempt to eat them, despite what the old holiday song says : “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” That song is NOT pertaining to the members of the Horse Chestnut family, but our nearly extinct American Chestnut. One to three shiny buckeye seeds can be found inside a smooth, light brown, globular seed capsule (1 to 3” diameter), which ripen in late summer/fall. Seeds are poisonous and are avoided by most wildlife. The palmate leaves are a dark green with 5 (sometimes 7) long, oval leaflets. (Palmate = open hand, fingers outstretched shape)
The Red Buckeye is native to the southeastern United States from North Carolina south to Florida, west to Texas, and north to southern Illinois and northern Kentucky. It occurs especially along river bluffs, stream borders, swamps, and on flood plains. They prefer moist, well-drained soil and partial shade to full sun and are considered to have a medium growth rate. Red Buckeye will flower well in rather dense shade but takes on its best form when grown in full sun with some afternoon shade, but keep in mind that it is not drought tolerant. Red Buckeye is fairly disease and pest resistant, making it a good choice for a home landscape.
Native American Indians used crushed branches from this tree and other buckeyes to drug fish in order to make them easier to catch. It is reported that the Cherokees used to carry the buckeye nut around for good luck and to prevent rheumatism. Early settlers made a soap substitute from its gummy roots, and they made home remedies from its bitter bark.
Patti Donnellan, Naturalist
Lake Guntersville State Park
Photos by Patti Donnellan