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Aesculus - Buckeyes and Horse-chestnuts
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Aesculus hippocastanum
Scientific classification

Aesculus arguta: Texas Buckeye
Aesculus californica: California Buckeye
Aesculus chinensis: Chinese Horse-chestnut
Aesculus flava (A. octandra): Yellow Buckeye
Aesculus glabra: Ohio Buckeye
Aesculus hippocastanum: Common Horse-chestnut
Aesculus indica: Indian Horse-chestnut
Aesculus neglecta: Dwarf Buckeye
Aesculus parviflora: Bottlebrush Buckeye
Aesculus pavia: Red Buckeye
Aesculus sylvatica: Painted Buckeye
Aesculus turbinata: Japanese Horse-chestnut
Aesculus wilsonii: Wilson's Horse-chestnut

The genus Aesculus comprises about 20-25 species of deciduous trees and shrubs native to the temperate northern hemisphere, with 7-10 species native to North America and 13-15 species native in Eurasia; there are also several natural hybrids. They have traditionally been treated in their own monogeneric family Hippocastanaceae, but genetic evidence shows that this family, along with the maples (formerly Aceraceae), are better included in the soapberry family (Sapindaceae), as the differences between the three groups are small and of doubtful significance.

The North American species are known as Buckeyes and the Eurasian species as Horse-chestnuts. The name Horse-chestnut, hyphenated here to avoid confusion with the true chestnuts (Castanea, Fagaceae), is also often given as 'Horse Chestnut' or 'Horsechestnut'. One species very popular in cultivation, the Common Horse-chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum is also often known as just 'Horse-chestnut'. The name buckeye derives from the resemblance of the seed to the brown eye of a buck (male deer), and horse-chestnut from the superficial resemblance of the seed to a chestnut, but being inedible ("only fit for horses" - though the seeds are also poisonous for horses).

Aesculus are woody plants from 4 to 35 m tall (depending on species), and have stout shoots with resinous, often sticky, buds; opposite, palmately divided leaves, often very large (to 65 cm across in the Japanese Horse-chestnut Aesculus turbinata); and showy insect-pollinated flowers, with a single four- or five-lobed petal (actually four or five petals fused at the base). Flowering starts after 80-110 growing degree days. The fruit is a rich glossy brown to blackish-brown nut 2-5 cm diameter, usually globose with one nut in a green or brown husk, but sometimes two nuts together in one husk, in which case the nuts are flat on one side; the point of attachment of the nut in the husk shows as a large circular whitish scar. The husk has scattered soft spines in some species, spineless in others, and splits into three sections to release the nut.

The most familiar member of the genus worldwide is the Common Horse-chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum, native to a small area of the Balkans in southeast Europe, but widely cultivated throughout the temperate world. The Yellow Buckeye Aesculus flava (syn. A. octandra) is also a valuable ornamental tree with yellow flowers, but is less widely planted. Among the smaller species, the Bottlebrush Buckeye Aesculus parviflora also makes a very interesting and unusual flowering shrub. Several other members of the genus are used as ornamentals, and several horticultural hybrids have also been developed, most notably the Red Horse-chestnut A. x carnea, a hybrid between A. hippocastanum and A. pavia.

They are generally fairly problem-free, though a recently discovered leaf-mining moth Cameraria ohridella is currently causing major problems in much of Europe, causing premature leaf fall which looks very unattractive. The symptoms (brown blotches on the leaves) can be confused with damage caused by the leaf fungus Guignardia aesculi, which is also very common but usually less serious.


The nuts are poisonous, but some Native American tribes leached the pulverized nuts to make them edible. Crushed buckeye nuts have also been used, thrown into lakes by poachers, to kill fish for easy capture. Some animals, notably deer, are resistant to the toxins and can eat the nuts.

California Buckeyes Aesculus californica are known to cause poisoning of honeybees from toxic nectar (other locally native bee species not being affected). Other buckeye species are thought to have the same effect, but the toxins are diluted because the trees not usually abundant enough in any one area.

The wood is very pale whitish-brown, fairly soft and little-used. Uses include cheap furniture, boxes and firewood.

The Ohio Buckeye Aesculus glabra is the state tree of Ohio and an original term of endearment for the pioneers on the Ohio frontier, with specific association with William Henry Harrison. Subsequently, the use of the term for the Ohio State University sports teams made the term a widely known title for any graduate, or indeed, any Ohioan. Ironically, the world-record Ohio Buckeye tree is located in Kentucky, not Ohio, and as a consequence, there has for some time been a reward offered for anyone who discovers an Ohio Buckeye in Ohio large enough to become the new champion. Of small but interesting note is the Buckeye confection, which is made by encasing a dollop of peanut butter with milk chocolate. These can be found throughout Ohio, especially as a treat during Christmas time.

External links

da:Hestekastanje (Aesculus) de:Rosskastanie fr:Hippocastanace it:Aesculus nl:Paardekastanje ja:トチノキ lt:Katoniniai augalai pl:Kasztanowiec


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