The deciduous Buckeye tree (Aesculus glabra and Aesculus flava) was a favorite provider of food, fruit, wood and medicine for Native Americans of the Midwest. Tall and sturdy, both the Ohio Buckeye and Yellow Buckeye are members of the Horse Chestnut family, native to Ohio and Ohio River Valley. The Ohio Buckeye tends to be somewhat smaller in both height and leaf size. The Yellow Buckeye takes its name from its yellowish flowers and the orange tint of its early twigs and buds.
Identifying an Ohio Buckeye
Find the Ohio Buckeye in thick woods and partially shaded areas. The tree has brownish gray bark that separates into scaly flakes, with narrow vertical grooves running between the scales.
Look for the Ohio Buckeye in early spring in western Ohio and other areas of the Midwest. A tree identification guide from a local extension service can help you narrow your search to likely areas near you. The tree produces yellow and green flowers with stamens that protrude past the edges of the flower petals. Ohio Buckeyes bloom at about the same time their green spring leaves emerge, which is earlier than many other deciduous trees.
Search for the Ohio Buckeye among trees that appear to be more of a round shape and have up to a 30-foot spread. Ohio Buckeyes are usually found in forests and woodlands, where they can grow up to 60 feet tall
Identify the Ohio Buckeye leaf by its five elliptical leaflets that are narrow at the top and base, and wide in the middle. The green leaves wilt in hot sun and tend to scorch at the edges and turn brown in late summer. Ohio Buckeyes lose their leaves in late summer and early fall.
Note that the Ohio Buckeye will grow a bumpy, round, light brown nut that emerges in mid-summer. Buckeye nuts will fall to the ground in early fall around an Ohio Buckeye tree.
Identifying a Yellow Buckeye
Look in southern and eastern Ohio for tall, straight trees up to 80 feet high to find a Yellow Buckeye. Its foot-long leaves produce five oval-shaped leaflets that are longer and wider than those of the Ohio Buckeye.
Identify a Yellow Buckeye in late spring by its profusion of yellow and orange blooms that can reach up to 8 inches long. Unlike the Ohio Buckeye flower, blooms on a Yellow Buckeye contain stamens that stay inside the petal clusters.
Find distinctly caramel-colored bark on a Yellow Buckeye. Young Yellow Buckeyes will have smooth bark that's sometimes splotchy. The bark develops narrow fissures and scaly plates as the tree ages.
Keep an eye out for Yellow Buckeye seeds. They grow in smooth husks shaped like tiny pears on the ends of thick stalks. Yellow Buckeye seeds are dark brown and shiny.