With its erect, flowering spikes and masses of golden-yellow fall foliage, this unique deciduous shrub has a picturesque presence in shady areas. Its tiered branching and large leaves form undulating mounds at least 6-12 feet tall and almost twice as wide. Prominent “bottlebrushes” of white flowers with pink stamens bloom in June and July, followed by dark, shiny seeds resembling those of the buckeye tree (the seed looks like the eye of a deer).
Bottlebrush buckeye is easy to grow, thriving in a wide range of moist, well-drained soils in part shade. It’s native to the southeastern US, where its leaves are prone to leaf scorch in full sun. In northern climates, the plant may be able to handle full sun. It also flourishes in full shade, though it produces fewer flowers. While not aggressive, it spreads by suckers to form colonies and needs plenty of room to grow. It is more tolerant of disease and insects than most buckeyes.
Bottlebrush buckeye’s beauty is typical of those in the genus Aesculus, which contains the horse chestnut tree and other species of buckeyes. The large, palmated leaves (like a hand with outstretched fingers) have five to seven leaflets that emerge bronze and change to deep green. Unlike other buckeyes, bottlebrush retains its leaves into fall, when they morph into a gorgeous, rich yellow. The lowest branches are horizontal and often rest on the ground, while the other branches grow in an elegant, curving fashion. Cylindrical spikes of feathery white flowers stand impressively above the foliage in early summer after other eastern buckeyes have finished blooming. The distinctive seeds develop in pear-like capsules.
Native habitats include woodlands, wooded bluffs, stream banks, moist ravines, and roadsides. The large, dark green leaves are ideal for showcasing the forms and colors of companion plants or for providing privacy and hiding undesirable views. They’re short enough to grow under telephone wires. Use them as specimen plants or mass them under trees or in the backs of borders.
Grows 6-15’ tall and 12-15’ wide. In ideal conditions, plants may become larger.
Performs best in dappled shade but will grow in full sun or full shade.
Grows in moist, well-drained soils, including sand, loam, clay, and acidic.
Four-petaled flowers are ½” wide with prominent pink stamens with pink to red anthers. Flowers occur in clusters that are 8-12” long and 2-4” wide. Pear-shaped fruits are 1-3” around and contain polished brown seeds. Fewer seeds are produced in northern settings.
Palmately compound leaves have 5-7 leaflets with serrated margins that are 3-8” long and 1-4” wide. They emerge bronze, turn deep green, and change to golden yellow in fall.
Multiple stems are covered with gray or silver bark.
Host plant for 37 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including 6 specialist moths and hickory tiger and imperial moths. Attracts solitary and other species of bees, swallowtails and monarchs, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. Squirrels love the seeds, and deer tend to ignore the plant.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
The plant has been used to treat colic, piles, constipation, and whooping cough.
Both the seeds and leaves are poisonous to humans, livestock, and pets. However, Native Americans slow-roasted the nuts, then rinsed them in streams to render them edible.
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