Honoring and preserving our connection with nature

June 12, 2020

Flower Friday: California Buckeye

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Flower Friday: California Buckeye

What do humans and bees have in common? We both love California Buckeye (AKA Aesculus California)! This California native, fragrant small tree is known for its showy white flowers, pale green leaves in spring and its brown fruit seeds during summer dormancy. California Buckeye can grow to incredible heights of 10-40 ft and 30 ft in width. This tree prefers cool, coastal areas and does not require a lot of water, which makes it perfectly suited to thrive in California

Aesculus California never has a bad day! Spring brings huge flowers the size of a hand, summer brings brown foliage that helps it to conserve water and fall brings beautiful golden globes wherever a seed has grown. Later, the winter brings a beautiful white structure. Then the process starts again! 

A variety of wildlife benefits from California Buckeye. In addition to bees, squirrels eat the seeds and deer love the low canopy the tree provides. Native insects like butterflies, moths, worms and caterpillars are attracted to the flowers. It is said to be toxic to non-native bees, but the plant is an important nectar source in the late spring to migrant butterflies.

This history of the great California Buckeye traces to uses by indigenous people of California. The Pomo, Yana, Yokut and Luiseno peoples used the pear-like fruits as fish poison. They would mash buckeye nuts and pour the contents into pools to stupefy or kill fish. Although the seeds are technically poisonous to humans, Native Americans discovered it is only poisonous when raw, so they figured out a way to cook buckeye seeds for food. 

Did you know that California Buckeye is known to live 250-280 years? With such a great life-span we are sure to have the beautiful Aesculus California around at the SLO Botanical Garden for a long time!

By Hannah Stein

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