9 Species of Aesculus (Buckeye)

buckeye shrub

The Spruce / K. Dave

The Aesculus genus includes nearly 20 species of woody flowering trees and shrubs native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Those species native to Europe and Asia generally go by the common name of horse chestnut, while those native to North America are called buckeyes.

The species range in size from 6- to 8-foot shrubs to massive 75-foot shade trees, but all are identified by large, palm-shaped compound leaves with serrated edges. The leaves can have five to nine leaflets, depending on species. These plants form upright panicles of tubular flowers, red, yellow, or white in color, blooming in spring or early summer.

Of the 20 or so species, here are nine that are commonly used in landscaping. These species, along with their many cultivars, are known as excellent flowering plants for part shade conditions, although some do quite well in full sun. Aesculus trees and shrubs will do best in consistently moist soil and often develop leaf scorch in arid conditions.

Caution

All parts of buckeye or horse chestnut trees are highly toxic, including the nut-like seeds. All parts contain glycoside aesculin, saponin aescin, and alkaloids that can cause symptoms including muscle weakness and paralysis, dilated pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and paralysis, Although serious poisoning in humans is rare, livestock and dogs can be easily killed by ingesting this plant.

  • 01 of 09

    Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra)

    The Ohio buckeye is the state tree of Ohio.
    Image by Digital Sextant via Flickr Creative Commons

    The Ohio buckeye is a smallish shade tree that loves moist soil, making it a good choice for rain gardens and other damp locations; it does not do well in dry locations. It is a bit of a messy tree, however, dropping twigs, leaves, and fruit, and therefore is not a great choice as featured landscape specimens. It can, however, work well along the margins of a landscape. It produces greenish-yellow flowers in April and May, and the foliage turns an attractive yellow in fall.

    Native Area: Eastern North America

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–7

    Height: 20-40 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 02 of 09

    Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

    Picture of the Common Horse-chestnut
    Image by Flowersabc via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

    The horse chestnut, not to be confused with the true chestnut, is a medium to large tree with a rounded crown. It makes a good landscape tree for parks and large yards, though it can be susceptible to scorch and leaf blotches that somewhat disfigure it. It will do best where it received regular moisture. Showy white flowers appear in mid-spring. Young trees closely resemble Ohio buckeyes.

    Native Area: Balkan regions

    USDA Growing Zones: 3–8

    Height: 50–75 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 03 of 09

    Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

    closeup of red buckeye

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    This is an excellent small flowering tree for planting as a specimen or in screens and large hedges, producing large panicles of red-to-orange flowers in spring. Like most buckeyes, it prefers somewhat moist soils and will develop leaf scorch in dry conditions. This plant has a clumping habit and forms an irregularly rounded crown. Its fall foliage is not particularly attractive, but the spring flowers will lure hummingbirds.

    Native Area: Eastern North America

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–8

    Height: 12–15 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 04 of 09

    Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava)

    Yellow buckey
    Yellow buckeye

    Missouri Plant Finder

    This is the largest of the native buckeyes, occasionally growing to as much as 90 feet. It is a more trouble-free plant than the Ohio buckeye, but leaf-scorch can still be a problem in arid conditions. It makes a good ornamental shade tree, though it can be somewhat messy. Its oblong-rounded crown, dense growth, yellow spring flowers, and yellow-orange fall color make this one of the most attractive of all the buckeyes.

    Native Area: Eastern North America

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–8

    Height: 50–75 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)

    Bottlebrush buckeye
    Bottlebrush buckeye

    Missouri Plant Finder

    This deciduous shrub is a good choice for shady locations. It has a multi-stemmed suckering growth habit, but pruning is rarely needed. White flowers with red anthers appear in mid-summer, and the fall color is an attractive yellow. Bottlebrush buckeye makes an excellent specimen plant or it can be planted in masses for shrub borders or islands. This plant is largely trouble-free, though it does prefer moist soil.

    Native Area: Southeastern U.S.

    USDA Growing Zones: 4–8

    Height: 8–12 feet

    Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade

  • 06 of 09

    Painted Buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica)

    Painted buckeye
    Painted buckeye

    WikiCommons

    The painted buckeye is a native of moist woodlands in the southeastern U.S. from the Piedmont plateau bottomlands to the coastal plain. Also called dwarf buckeye, this is a good understory shrub for shady areas. In blooms in spring with yellow, cream, or red flowers appearing on upright clusters. It can be either multi-stemmed or a single-trunk specimen, and is best for woody borders since the dry late summer months often cause a decline in the foliage.

    Native Area: Southeastern U.S.

    USDA Growing Zones: 7–8

    Height: 6–15 feet

    Sun Exposure: Part shade

  • 07 of 09

    California Buckeye (Aesculus californica)

    California buckeye
    California buckeye

    WikiCommons

    California buckeye is a large deciduous shrub native to the foothills of the California mountains. It has a flat-topped crown and blooms with creamy white or pink flowers in late winter. The shrub prefers wet winters and dry summers and is rarely grown in eastern gardens. It often goes dormant in summer and thus is not a popular garden plant.

    Native Area: California

    USDA Growing Zones: 7–8

    Height: 15–30 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

  • 08 of 09

    Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus × carnea)

    Flower of the red horse chestnut tree.
    Red horse chestnut Photos from Japan, Asia and the world/Moment/Getty Images

    The red horse chestnut is a genetic cross between A. hippocastanum (horse chestnut)  and A. pavia (red buckeye)  that was discovered in Europe in 1812. Although the fall foliage color is bland, the 3-inch upright panicles of bright red flowers in spring make this a beautiful tree for parks and large landscapes. Like most members of the species, it can be a messy tree, littering the ground with nuts, twigs, and leaves.

    Native Area: Garden hybrid, discovered in Europe

    USDA Growing Zones: 5–8

    Height: 30–40 feet

    Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Indian Horse Chestnut (Aescus indica)

    Indian horse chestnut
    Indian horse chestnut

    This native of the Himalayan lowlands forms an impressive full round canopy and blooms with white or pink flowers in May and June. It is a common feature in European parks and is also found in the U.S. It is one of the few Aesculus species that prefers full sun, but it is a very dense tree that requires some pruning to keep it strong.

    Native Area: Northern India

    USDA Growing Zones: 7–9

    Height: 40–60 feet, occasionally taller

    Sun Exposure: Full sun