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Aesculus pavia – Red Buckeye

A red buckeye I planted years ago was the first to yield actual buckeye nuts. I gave one buckeye nut to my son and another to my daughter. The buckeye nuts are supposed to bring good luck.

That same red buckeye once got weed-whacked by an over-exuberant weed whacker guy and yet grew back the next year. Aesculus pavia, the red or firecracker buckeye, is no quitter. It’s a winner.

Aesculus pavia - Red Buckeye
Aesculus pavia, red buckeye, is native to the eastern U.S.

Native to the eastern United States, Aesculus pavia is a small tree or large shrub of spreading open habit. If you want a big buckeye, yellow buckeye (Aesculus octandra) is the largest of the buckeye clan.

Most people will first notice red buckeye due to the flowers.

The flowers are red, of course. They are 5″-8″ long and are tubular. Apparently, hummingbirds like Aesculus pavia and I would believe this wholeheartedly. Hummingbirds love long tubular flowers such as Salvia guaranitica. Red buckeye’s flowering period ranges from April to May. In Georgia, red buckeye flowers reliably in mid-April.

red buckeye in flower
Red buckeye in flower. Bottlebrush buckeye in background
The first time a red buckeye I actually planted dropped its leaves, I thought it was sick. No, that’s just their habit. The large serrated leaflets turn a beautiful gold before they drop. The leaves are large, 4″-6″.

Red buckeye may drop its leaves early in fall, but new leaves emerge early in spring, so I suppose it all balances in the end.

Aesculus pavia also has the great habit of flowering early in its life. I have seen red buckeyes as small as three feet tall bloom. It will eventually top out at 10′-20′.

Growing red buckeye in the garden
I like red buckeye best as an understory shrub or tree. Partially shaded areas in the landscape such as woodland edges seem to suit its form. I have read that Aesculus pavia does well in sun, but I have never used red buckeye in this way. I suppose light shade would be just about perfect.

Prefers soil that is slightly acidic, moist, well-drained. Plants with large leaves do not tend to fair well in a combination of hot and dry.

Red buckeye is hardy from Canada to Florida and Texas. It has a wide latitude of comfort when it comes to low and high temperature extremes. There is a version with yellow flowers native to Texas, Aesculus pavia lavescens. While we’re on the subject of different species, the red horse-chestnut (Aesculus × carnea) is a naturally occurring hybrid of red buckeye with the common chestnut.

More resources for red buckeye:
-nice image of a mature tree at Arbor Day
-a good description at the always reliable

aesculus pavia native shrub
This red buckeye is growing and blooming well in heavy shade in the Boulevard District of Athens, Georgia

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