“Early to bed, early to rise..” This part of Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote always comes to mind when California buckeye (Aesculus californica) is visible in the landscape. First to go dormant in late summer, and first to put on new leaves and green up in late winter, they seem uniquely out of sync with the surrounding landscape. This strange timing helps the buckeye thrive in a climate where winters are wet – perfect for growing leaves – and summers are hot and dry – ideal for early dormancy.
Buckeye trees are easily distinguishable by their palmately compound leaves, or leaves formed from five to seven leaflets
that radiate like fingers from one point in the center. When buckeyes begin to bloom in May, a show appears in the form of large, banana-shaped four to eight-inch clusters of cream colored flowers. The 1 to 2 inch nut-like seeds produced from these blooms are brown with a light spot like an eye – the tree’s namesake. The buckeye tree has a rounded, many branched shape, up to 40 feet tall and wide, and may even be the favorite climbing tree of someone you know!
(Header photo ©2007 John Morgan CC by 2.0)