Description & Overview

Aesculus flava, the Yellow Buckeye, is the largest-growing buckeye endemic to the United States. This buckeye grows moderately fast and can reach heights of 60 feet plus. Yellow Buckeye grows naturally in rich soils near rivers, along stream banks, and on mountainous slopes from southeastern Pennsylvania to northern Alabama and Georgia and down the Ohio River Vally to Illinois.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: No - Native to North America

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 4

Mature Height: 60-75 feet

Mature Spread: 30-50 feet

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Upright. Oval.

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Adaptable to different soil types and textures. Thrives in moist sites.

Flower: Yellowish-green panicle.

Bloom Period: May–June

Foliage: Large, dark green. Palmately compound.

Fall Color: Orange-bronze.

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Shiny, dark brown nuts. Appearing in leathery, round to oval capsules on stout terminal stalks containing 1-3 seeds.

Suggested Uses

Yellow Buckeye is a large-growing deciduous tree with large, dark green palmately compound foliage that turns to beautiful shades of orange to bronze in autumn. Typically, this tree will exceed 60 feet in height, although in the mountains, where it grows naturally, it has been observed to grow up to 90 feet tall.

The large and attractive foliage emerges relatively early in spring and has better natural disease resistance than other buckeyes. The foliage tends to scorch if planted in dry conditions or overly windy locations, but it should be noted that Yellow Buckeye is much more tolerant of sun scorch than Aesculus glabra, the Ohio Buckeye. Yellow Buckeye is also much faster growing than the Ohio Buckeye.

This tree is easily grown in average soils with medium levels of moisture. Although, siting this Buckeye in a more mesic site would be appreciated. Heavy clay soils are not ideal. Yellow Buckeye is primarily found in habitats characterized by moderate temperatures and high precipitation amounts.

Come late spring and early summer, yellow flowers appear in erect panicles. The familiar buckeye fruit follows the flowers, a globular dehiscent capsule containing 1-3 seeds. A leathery light brown husk encases the seeds. The husks are smooth, unlike the spiny husks of Aesculus glabra, the Ohio Buckeye. I like to think the seeds are a similar shade of brown to that of pretzel buns.

This tree is not well suited for small residences due to its large and powerful stature. Yellow Buckeye is more appropriate for larger landscapes, properties, or parks with plenty of room to grow. Be mindful to plant in a location where the seeds won’t bother you. It would do well planted in nearby streams or ponds. Still, Yellow Buckeye would make for a lovely shade or specimen tree and is generally pretty underutilized.

Wildlife Value

The large and shiny buckeye nuts are attractive to wildlife and inquisitive children. The seeds are favored by squirrels over other mammalian foragers. The nectar from the flowers attracts pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. If you’re lucky, you might even see the Ruby-throated hummingbird.

Deer wisely avoids foraging on Yellow Buckeye due to its toxic qualities. The seeds are rich in saponins aescin, which are bitter and toxic. The toxins are also present in the foliage. Pets are unlikely to consume enough of the foliage or seeds to experience adverse effects.

It is not recommended to plant Yellow Buckeye where horses and livestock graze to avoid accidental poisoning.

Maintenance Tips

The best time to prune your buckeye would be while the tree is dormant. For pruning assistance, we invite you to check out the Arborist For Hire lookup at the Wisconsin Arborist Association website to find an ISA Certified Arborist near you.

Pests/Problems

Japanese Beetles and the Buckeye lace bug are fairly infrequent yet potentially troublesome. Yellow Buckeye is much less susceptible to leaf scorch, leaf blotch, and powdery mildew than other buckeyes, but these issues can still occur. If said problems are present, they are generally less severe than those for Aesculus glabra, the Ohio Buckeye.

Leaf Lore

Aesculus was an old Latin name for a type of oak tree with an edible acorn. Carl Linnaeus was the first to apply that name to a plant, later classified as an Aesculus. It is thought that the Aesculus he observed at that time was Aesculus hippocastanum, the European horsechestnut. Aesculus is now recognized as the genus for horsechestnut and buckeye. Aesculus is a member of the Soapberry (Sapindaceae) family.

It should be noted that horsechestnuts are not true chestnuts and are entirely unrelated to Castanea, the genus for Chestnuts. It should also be noted that the Mexican Buckeye may have seeds that resemble the seedpods of Aesculus, but is a member of the genus Ungnadia.

The specific epithet flava means “yellow” in reference to the color of these buckeyes flowers.

The current national champion, Yellow Buckeye, is in Alleghany, Virginia, standing 81 feet tall with a crown spread of 56 feet. This tree’s awe-inspiring 295″ trunk circumference makes it the national champion. It was deemed champion in 2017 and still holds its crown according to the National Register of Champion Trees’ latest data table of champions.

Companion Plants

If planting underneath your Yellow Buckeye, consider shade tolerant perennials that won’t mind living in the shade that this tree will cast and will benefit from similar moisture levels. Solid choices include Spikenard, Solomon’s Seal, Lungwort, Sedge, Ferns, and Goatsbeard.

Aesculus flava, the Yellow Buckeye, is the largest-growing buckeye endemic to the United States. This buckeye grows moderately fast and can reach heig…
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Written by Miles Minter