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Yellow Buckeye, Sweet Buckeye, Yellow Horsechestnut, Common Buckeye - Aesculus flava


Family: Hippocastanaceae - Horse-Chestnut Family Genus Common Name: Buckeye Native Status: NativeDicot Perennial Shrub Tree
Aesculus flava - Yellow Buckeye, Sweet Buckeye, Yellow Horsechestnut, Common Buckeye. Aesculus flava (syn. Aesculus octandra) - Yellow Buckeye - is the largest of the 6 or native species of Buckeye found in North America, growing to 100' tall (there are another half-dozen or so species native to Asia and Europe.) It grows in rich forests from lower elevations all the way up to mountain tops within its range - generally the Ohio Valley and southern Appalachians, and is one of the most common trees in the southern Appalachians. I know it more from young trees, because they are easy to spot in the understory with the palmate leaf structure and showy flowers. I didn't realize until researching for this description that there are two more Buckeyes within the range of Yellow Buckeye that may also have yellow blossoms - Aeculus sylvatica (Painted Buckeye) and Aesculus glabra - Ohio Buckeye. Some key diagnostics are mentioned with the photos below.

Found in:
AL, DC, GA, IL, IN, KY, MD, MS, NC, NJ, OH, PA, SC, TN, VA, WV, GS
Aesculus flava

Distribution of Aesculus flava in the United States and Canada:
USDA Plants Distribution Map temporarily unavailable.
Blue=Native; Grey=Introduced

Map from USDA Plants Database:
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 23 Oct 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

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Site: Piney River Trail, Rhea County, TN Date: 2016-April-08Photographer: Gerald C. Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
The inflorescence of Aesculus flava is a showy terminal cluster up to about 6 inches long made up of yellow flowers each of which have 4 petals and are about 1 to 1.5 inches long.
Aesculus flava

Site: Piney River Trail, Rhea County, TN Date: 2016-April-08Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
This photo was key to differentiating Aesculus flava from the other yellow-flowered Buckeyes. Ohio Buckeye - A. glabra - has stamens which are about twice as long as the 4 petals, and they are thus strongly exserted (the Yellow Buckeye stamen showing at the bottom of this photo has fallen thru the petals; it is not exserted due to its length.) The stamens of both Yellow Buckeye - A. flava - and Painted Buckeyes - A. sylvatica - are a bit shorter than the petals, and are normally hidden inside the blossom. The petal margins of both Yellow Buckeye and Painted Buckeye have non-glandular hairs, but the calyx and pedicel of Yellow Buckeye are glandular, as seen in this photo.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Aesculus flava

Site: Piney River Trail, Rhea County, TN Date: 2016-April-08Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The leaves of Aesculus flava are palmate with 5 or occasionally 7 leaflets which are 8 inches long or occasionally even longer. The leaflet margins are serrate.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Aesculus flava

Site: Piney River Trail, Rhea County, TN Date: 2016-April-08Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
Any of the Buckeyes could reach this size - Ohio Buckeye and Yellow Buckeye grow to be quite large trees, but Painted Buckeye rarely exceeds 20 feet. Buckeyes hybridized readily, and the plant in the foreground may be a hybrid with Aesculus pavia - Red Buckeye.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Aesculus flava

Site: Blue Ridge Parkway, Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, Buncombe County, NC Date: 2014-August-29Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The fruit of Aeculus flava is a capsule that is more or less round, and the shell (pericarp) is more or less smooth - without spines. The nut-like seeds (along with some other parts of the plant) are poisonous unless properly prepared - Native Americans used them to make a nutritious food after soaking and roasting them.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Aesculus flava

References used for identification and information:

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All content except USDA Plants Database map Copyright Gerald C. Williamson 2017
Photographs Copyright owned by the named photographer