Scientific Name: Aesculus californica
Common Names: California buckeye
Plant Type: Flowering Tree
Environment: Drought tolerant but can take some moderate summer watering.
Uses: Tree to 40' so plenty of space is required
Other: The nectar and pollen is toxic to honeybees and no wildlife, except squirrels, have been known to eat eat the buckeye seeds. Some of the Native American names for A. californica include: pomo, nomlaki, yuki and coast miwok
A. californica on Jepson Flora
Buckeyes are one of the most distinctive members of the plant community in the California foothills. Their spreading crowns filled with fresh leaflets appear in early March, far earlier than those of other deciduous trees.
In May, long tapering creamy-white flower spikes stand erect on twigs looking like bottlebrush candelabras. The cultivar 'Canyon Pink' resembles the species in form but has light to medium pink flowers. It was a wild-collected seedling discovered in Monterey County.
By August, the foliage has dropped due to yearly summer drought. This serves to conserve whatever water remains in the trunk and roots. These forked gray trunks with bare branches are a breathtaking sight in fall and winter.
In autumn, the hard shiny buckeyes form. They, along with the rest of the plant, contain the toxin, aesculin. California Native Americans used a powder consisting of ground buckeye, putting it into streams. This toxic powder would temporarily stupefy the fish making them easier to catch. The hard wood of the tree was also used as a fire drill. Only in times of famine would they resort to eating buckeyes, carefully leaching out poisons before ingesting.
Horse chestnuts and buckeyes are in the same family. In Europe, buckeyes are called horse chestnuts, although they are not chestnuts and are poisonous.
We have a magnificent specimen of the California buckeye in the center of the California Native Garden. Our 'Canyon Pink' is in the west end of the collection on the northwest side of the reservoir.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS:
Text by Kathy McNeil. Plant profile by Associate Curator David Kruse-Pickler. Photos by Joanne Taylor, David Kruse-Pickler, Mona Bourell and James Gaither.