Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus octandra) and Ohio Buckeye trees (Aesculus glabra) are native to the Ohio Valley and the Appalachian regions. A deciduous tree from the Horse Chestnut Family (Hippocastanaceae), buckeye trees are primarily a bottom land tree that prefers rich, organic soil. The buckeye has also adapted to higher elevations. The California Buckeye tree (Aesculus californica) is found in California in the Great Central Valley, the Tehachapi Mountains and the southwestern Mohave Desert. Planted as a landscape ornamental, buckeye trees are useful in controlling erosion of river and stream banks.
Buckeye trees are a messy tree. The tree produces a tough spiny shelled nut. The nut is inedible and a chore to rake up beneath the tree. If the nuts are not removed from the ground, they will sprout and produce new trees. The leaves of the tree fall very early in the season, limiting the tree's value as a shade tree.
The seeds and leaves of buckeye trees are toxic. They can be poisonous if consumed by pets or young children. The toxin can cause vomiting and paralysis. Buckeye nuts cannot be eaten unless heated and leached. Native Americans ground the nut into a coarse powder and cast it upon rivers or ponds to stun or kill fish.
Buckeye trees are poisonous to bees and most wildlife. Squirrels are the only animal that will consume buckeye nuts. The United States Department of Agriculture reports, "California buckeye is toxic to all classes of livestock and wildlife.The bark, leaves, stems, fruits, and seeds all contain glycosidal compounds which cause haemolytic action on red blood cells and depress the central nervous system when ingested. This species has been implicated in inducing abortion in cattle."
A medium-sized tree, the buckeye reaches heights of 60 to 90 feet at maturity. The buckeye tree is one of the first trees to leaf out in the spring. In late spring, delicate yellow flowers appear. Buckeye trees drop leaves early in the fall. Fall foliage is presented in brilliant shades of reddish-orange. The leaves have a strong, unpleasant odor. Avoid planting buckeye trees near patios or recreational areas. The pungent smell is offensive.