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This deciduous, yellow-flowered tree is the largest of the native buckeye species. It grows 60 to 80 feet tall with an oval to slightly spreading crown and produces showy panicles of flowers in spring, followed by shiny, brown nuts in fall. In Ohio, it's found almost exclusively in the southeastern portion of the state and in the extreme southern counties along the Ohio River. It prefers moist, well-drained, acidic soils that are deep and rich in organic matter, but it adapts to average, occasionally dry soils that are neutral to alkaline pH. It tolerates shady conditions in its youth and requires full to partial sun at maturity. Yellow buckeye is the healthiest member of the genus Aesculus and, unlike other buckeyes or related horsechestnut trees, does not usually suffer from leaf blotch, leaf scorch, or powdery mildew on its foliage. Thus, its leaves remain cleaner in the summer. In the fall, the foliage may be yellow green to orange in good years and is often faded green in average years. Each leaf generally has five leaflets that are a bit larger than those of Ohio buckeye, but they are not fused at their bases like horsechestnut leaves. Yellow buckeye has smooth, light gray to brown bark that provides an ideal habitat for lichens and mosses. With age, the bark breaks into flaky, rectangular plates. 


Yellow buckeye's lightweight wood is valued in the production of furniture, crates, boxes, and artificial limbs. At one time, it was used extensively for caskets. In early fall, each husk splits open to reveal one or two nuts, called "buckeyes," because they supposedly resemble a male deer's eye. 


Native habitats include Appalachian mountains and moderate, moist uplands. Use in parks, municipal grounds, or large yards for shade. Does well planted along streams or ponds, in naturalized areas, in rain or pollinator gardens, or in open woodland settings.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 60-80' tall and 30' wide. Tends to be taller in the mountains and shorter in the lowlands.


Prefers full to part sun. Tolerates shade when young.


Prefers rich, moist, well-drained, acidic soils but adapts to average soils. Tolerates brief flooding but doesn't do as well in dry conditions.


Yellowish, tubular-shaped flowers occur in 7" panicles and have short stamens and longer styles that reach beyond the 4 petals to curl upward. Flowers give rise to clusters of several smooth-husked, brown fruits with 1-3 seeds. The non-sticky and non-shiny winter buds of yellow buckeye are covered with smoothly overlapping scales, rather than having scales that are ridged or flared (as in Ohio buckeye).


Opposite leaves have 5 or, rarely, 7 palmately compound, elliptically shaped leaflets.


Trunk may be single or multi. Unlike Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra), when a twig is cut or crushed, no foul odor is emitted.


Wildlife Value:

Host plant to 37 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including luna and polyphemus moths, plus four specialist moths: buckeye petiole borer, buckeye pinion, four-spotted angle, and Olethreutes monetiforanum. The nectar attracts hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. Nuts attract squirrels. The plant offers cover and habitat for wildlife. Resistant to deer and to black walnut. This plant has a low flammability rating.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

The seeds of Aesculus flava are reportedly poisonous. Saponins make them bitter and toxic, but they are also poorly absorbed by the human body.  The seeds may be leached of poisonous toxins and then eaten; these are said to be as "sweet as a chestnut."  Native Americans roasted the nuts to loosen the shells, then peeled and mashed them and leached the mixture with water for several days (Peatte, 1991, p. 481; Plant for a Future website,


Caution: Children, pets, and horses should not consume the nuts.


Resources: , 

Buckeye, Yellow, Aesculus flava

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