About the Dangers of Buckeye Trees

While stunning and noble, the buckeye tree is also a danger to humans and animals who decide to ingest any part of the tree. That's right. Every part of the plant, from the leaves to the bark to the fruit that falls from the branches, is highly toxic to every living thing except for one, allegedly.

Fine first horse chestnut foliage.
credit: Keikona/iStock/GettyImages
About the Dangers of Buckeye Trees

Identifying a Buckeye Tree

The small buckeye tree is in the horse chestnut family. It can grow to be about 15 feet and as tall as 50 feet under the right conditions in the wild. It has a dense canopy that grows in a pleasing round shape, providing a good amount of shade.

The buckeye's scientific name is Aesculus glabra. Buckeyes are also known as:

  • Ohio buckeye
  • Horse chestnut
  • White buckeye
  • Texas buckeye
  • American buckeye
  • Fetid buckeye
  • Stinking buckeye

It was adopted by the state of Ohio in 1953 as its official state tree. It thrives in the east and central areas of the United States.

What Causes the Buckeye to Be Toxic?

The tree produces glycoside aesculin, alkaloids and saponin aescin. These poisons are naturally occurring but can have serious side effects if not ingested or prepared properly. The common glycoside aesculin can also be found in daphnin, prickly box and dandelion coffee.

Horse chestnuts are regularly consumed through herbal tinctures and extracts. These are safe to consume because they have been through a complex heating and leaching process. It is most often used, once the poisonous toxins have been removed, to treat the symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism as part of a natural medicine regimen.

Symptoms of Buckeye Ingestion

If you have inadvertently ingested parts of the buckeye tree, you may have a few telltale signs. Symptoms that can occur when someone has ingested a buckeye byproduct include:

  • Stomachache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Dilated pupils
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Facts About the Buckeye Nut

Native Americans realized the dangerous potential of the buckeye nut. They would allegedly grind the nuts into a fine powder and sprinkle it on top of pond water. The potent powder would stun the fish.

Larger animals including horses, cows and deer can become sick or die after eating buckeye nuts. The only wildlife that can truly tolerate ingesting the buckeye nut is the squirrel. On the other end of the spectrum, the fat brown nuts have also been used as good luck charms worn around the neck or on a belt.

The large buckeye nuts that fall from the leafy canopy of the buckeye tree are dark brown with a whitish eye at its pointed tip. It is often compared to a deer's eye, which is why it is sometimes called a deer nut.

If Your Pet Eats a Buckeye Nut

Pets come across the large buckeye nuts that fall from the tree, and it's difficult to ensure they don't inadvertently ingest them. If you have a pet you suspect may have eaten a buckeye nut or a few, take the animal to a vet so it can be further assessed and treated.

A pet that eats a buckeye nut, leaves or bark will show signs of:

  • Uneven gate
  • Excessive diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Abundant drooling

Tendency to Fall in Flash Floods

Aside from its fairly toxic features, the buckeye is also dangerous for its heft. The tree tends to fall when it reaches maturity, unexpectedly blocking paths, crashing through roofs or causing other issues when it breaks free from its mooring in the earth.

The buckeye tree falls due to its shallow root system. It tends to take root next to major water sources. Heavy rains can bring down towering buckeyes, which can cause crippling damage to a person or a structure.


Kimberley McGee

Kimberley McGee

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.