Native Spotlight: Bottlebrush Buckeye

Native Spotlight: Bottlebrush Buckeye

Native Spotlight: Bottlebrush Buckeye

When he purchased his house in the 1978, my father immediately began converting the lot from a dumping ground of construction waste into a backyard.

He started with trees. He asked around and learned the best trees to put on the lot, he dug most of them from the surrounding forests.

Once he had the backyard planted he looked to the front. The front hill was steep and he worried that it may slide in the future. He wanted a fast growing shrub that would hold that hillside.

He was recommended the Bottlebrush Buckeye.

Unfortunately, he was unable to find this shrub for sale, so he opted for the non-native privet hedge. But had he been able to find a Bottlebrush Buckeye, he would have been in for a treat.

Over 30 years later, I own the Bottlebrush Buckeye that he wanted. They still are difficult to find, and can be a bit expensive – but they are worth every penny spent.

Natural History

Reaching about 10 feet high and twice as wide, the Bottlebrush Buckeye or Aesculus parviflora is an understory thicket-forming shrub. This means it spreads, but still makes a tight bush. Not a plant for the small garden, its size makes it useful as a wind break or privacy screen. Bottlebrush buckeyes are perfect plants under shade trees adding a layer of ground cover.

Bottlebrush buckeyes are perfect plants under shade trees. Click To Tweet

It holds dark green leaves in the summer and throws up white flower spikes over them in June to July. Unlike other buckeyes, it holds its leaves well into autumn when they turn a brilliant yellow. Late summer it makes buckeyes which begin by looking like bright yellow spiky pears on the plant. The seed is poisonous to humans so don’t try it as a snack.

“Unlike other buckeyes, the bottlebrush buckeyes hold their leaves into the fall.”

Bottlebrush Buckeye Quick Facts

  • Zone 4-8
  • Full Sun in north to part shade in south
  • Moist, well-drained soil
  • Native from Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina
  • Nectar, nuts

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How To Grow

In the wild, the bottlebrush buckeye is a southern plant. It is native to the deep south, but now grows in backyards as far north as New Jersey. Not a plant of drought, it prefers to grow in rich woods and moist ravines.

Aesculus parviflora range map 1

Bottlebrush Buckeye Native Range, Wikimedia Commons

If you live in the north, the Bottlebrush buckeye will happily take full sun, but in the warmer south it prefers part shade. Full sun in the south may scorch the leaves. Plant this shrub in soil that has a bit of moisture and it will thrive. For the best fall color, be sure to water this during drought. Finding one for sale is a challenge. Grown through division, this shrub is rarely offered and can be expensive. Luckily I found a wonderful mail order nursery that carries small plants for an amazing price and purchased one. Check out Mail Order Natives throughout the year to see when it is in stock.

Wildlife Value

As to wildlife, this shrub is rumored to be avoided by deer; however, a local grower has found his deer do find it to be a tasty snack. Other than the occasional deer, this shrub is loved by pollinators when in flower. Butterflies, moths, bees, hummingbirds and the occasional Baltimore oriole are known to visit during bloom. Northern growers may not have a crop of nuts each fall (due to the short seasons), but if you do they will be gobbled up by chipmunks and squirrels. Don’t sample the nuts yourself, buckeyes are poisonous to humans.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

Bottlebrush Buckeye nuts look like spikey pears

There is a single cultivar of this bush. Aesculus parvilora var. serotina ‘Rogers’ blooms 2 weeks after the species plant. The flowers tend to be larger, as is the shrub. So, if you have room for both, you can have twice the bloom!

How many out there grow this amazing shrub? Tell me about it in the comments!

Paige Nugent


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