Friday, January 23, 2015

Flower Friday: Red buckeye's early blooms nourish returning hummingbirds and butterflies.

Red buckeye inflorescence. Photo by Lisa Roberts.
Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

Red buckeye is a deciduous understory shrub or small tree with an open, rounded crown. Its maroon to red, tubular flowers are borne in showy, terminal clusters on red pedicels. Leaves are palmately compound with long leaf stalks. They are oppositely arranged. Leaflets are elliptic to obovate with finely serrated margins. The fruit, which appears in the fall, is a large, brown capsule that splits to reveal one to several seeds that look like chestnuts.*

Red buckeye typically flowers in late winter through spring. It is one of the first of the red tubular flowering plants to bloom each year, and is important food source for returning hummingbirds and butterflies. It occurs naturally in moist and calcareous hammocks, slope forests, and upland hardwood forests. 

Red buckeye leaves. Photo by Walter Taylor.
: Sapindaceae (Soapberry family)
Hardiness: Panhandle, North and Central peninsula (Zones 7–9B)
Soil: Prefers rich, moist soil, but can tolerate drier soils
Exposure: Full to partial shade; can thrive in full sun, but may require additional irrigation
Growth habit: 6–20 feet tall
Garden tips: Red buckeye is propagated by seed, which germinate quickly (sometimes even before they drop from the tree). The tree is fast-growing and usually flowers early in its life cycle.

*Caution: Both the leaves and the seeds contain saponins and are poisonous to humans and animals if ingested.

Red buckeye is often available at nurseries that specialize in native plants.Visit PlantRealFlorida.org to find a native nursery on your area.

To see where red buckeye occurs naturally, visit www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=3584.

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