Herbs & Plants

Red Buckeye

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Botanical Name: Aesculus pavia
Family : Hippocastanaceae /Sapindaceae
Common Name :Red Buckeye ,scarlet buckeye, woolly buckeye and firecracker plant.
Genus : Aesculus
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Sapindales
Species: A. pavia

Habitat :
Native to the southern and eastern parts of the United States, found from Illinois to Virginia in the north and from Texas to Florida in the south South-eastern N. America – Virginia to Florida, west to Louisiana.   Rich moist soils in deciduous woods, on the sides of streams and swamp margins.Woodland Garden; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge;

It is a deciduous flowering plant growing  at a fast rate.  The Red Buckeye is a large shrub or small tree.Red buckeye is a  clump-forming shrub or small tree with an irregular rounded crown. It reaches a height of 5-8 m, often growing in a multi-stemmed form. Its leaves are opposite, and are usually composed of five elliptical serrated leaflets, each 10-15 cm long. It bears 10-17 cm long clusters of attractive dark red tubular flowers, each in April to May. The flowers are hermaphrodite. The smooth light brown fruits, about 3 cm in diameter, reach maturity in September and October.
There are two varieties:

Aesculus pavia var. pavia: typical Red Buckeye.
Aesculus pavia var. flavescens: yellow-flowered Red Buckeye.
The yellow-flowered variety, var. flavescens, is found in higher country in Texas, and hybrids with intermediate flower color occur.

The flowers are attractive to hummingbirds as well as bees. The fruits are rich in saponins, which are poisonous to humans, though not particularly dangerous because they are not easily ingested. The oils can be extracted to make soap, though this is not commercially viable.

Ornamental cultivars such as the low-growing ‘Humilis’ have been selected for garden use.

Red Buckeye has hybridised with Common Horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) in cultivation, the hybrid being named Aesculus × carnea, Red Horse-chestnut. The hybrid is a medium-size tree to 20-25 m tall, intermediate between the parent species in most respects, but inheriting the red flower color from A. pavia. It is a popular tree in large gardens and parks, most commonly the selected cultivar ‘Briotii’. Hybrids of Red Buckeye with Yellow Buckeye (A. flava) have also been found, and named Aesculus × hybrida.

It is hardy to zone 5 and is frost tender. It is in flower in June, and the seeds ripen in September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil.


Cultivation :-
Prefers a deep loamy well-drained soil but is not too fussy. Very shade tolerant, it also succeeds in a sunny position. A very ornamental shrub, when dormant it is hardy to about -15°c though the young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. It prefers a continental climate, growing best in eastern and south-eastern England. Trees are fast-growing in the wild, though they are also short-lived .

They can commence flowering when only 1 metre tall. Plants spread by means of suckers . There are a number of named varieties, developed for their ornamental value. Var. ‘Humilis’ is a low growing form. Most members of this genus transplant easily, even when fairly large.

Seed – best sown outdoors or in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. The seed germinates almost immediately and must be given protection from severe weather. The seed has a very limited viability and must not be allowed to dry out. Stored seed should be soaked for 24 hours prior to sowing and even after this may still not be viable. It is best to sow the seed with its ‘scar’ downwards. If sowing the seed in a cold frame, pot up the seedlings in early spring and plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer. Division of suckers in the dormant season. The suckers can be planted out straight into their permanent positions if required.

Edible Uses
Edible Parts: Seed.

Seed – cooked. It can be dried and ground into a powder and used as a gruel. The seed is quite large, about 25mm in diameter, and is easily harvested. Unfortunately, the seed is also rich in saponins and these need to be removed before it can be eaten. See also the notes above on toxicity. The following notes apply to A. californica, but are probably also relevant here:- The seed needs to be leached of toxins before it becomes safe to eat – the Indians would do this by slow-roasting the nuts (which would have rendered the saponins harmless) and then cutting them into thin slices, putting them into a cloth bag and rinsing them
in a stream for 2 – 5 days. Most of the minerals etc would also have been leached out by this treatment.

Medicinal Actions & Uses
Cancer; Hypnotic; Odontalgic; Salve.

The powdered bark is hypnotic and odontalgic. It is used in the treatment of ulcers. A poultice of the powdered seeds has been used in the treatment of cancer tumours and infections, and as a salve for sores.

An infusion of the roots has been used as a bath in the treatment of dyspepsia.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Other Uses
Soap; Wood.

Saponins in the seed and roots are a soap substitute. The saponins can be easily obtained by chopping the seed into small pieces and infusing them in hot water. This water can then be used for washing the body, clothes etc. Its main drawback is a lingering odour of horse chestnuts.

Known Hazards :
The seed is rich in saponins. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching the seed or flour in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins.

Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.


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