Aesculus parviflora Walt.
6-12' high, 12-20' wide
Broad-rounded shrub, spreading and multi-stemmed
Zone 5a USDA
South Carolina . Alabama . Florida
In the woody plant identification courses at the
University of Illinois, students are usually
unimpressed when they first learn about bottlebrush
buckeyes. The dark green, relatively boring
leaves mounded over an oval habit, giving way
to coarse, lanky stalks in winter with dried
flower stalks atop don't help much.
They come to know the plant as a diminutive
member of the horsechestnut family with opposite
palmately compound leaves and large buds bearing
waxy white residue which unfortunately
reminds them of bird droppings.
Late summer is a time of reckoning, however. As
the students leave for summer internships or full-time
jobs, they often get a first-hand opportunity to
see a specimen in full bloom. Large, upright
feathery plumes borne atop the rich, dark green
color appreciated by so many gardeners are compelling
arguments, strong enough to convince even the most
skeptical. But if that weren't enough, the uniformity
of the broad-rounded habit, lending itself to
tremendous mass plantings and its ability to
thrive in sun or shade remove any last shreds of doubt.
Easy to identify, the palmately compound leaves are
composed of 5, or occasionally up to 7, leaflets
which in combination produce an umbrella-like effect.
The leaflets are 3 to 8 inches in length with
short petiolules, obovate to oblong in shape and
with finely round-toothed margins. The leaves are
dark green above and have rounded-cuneate bases
and acuminate apices.
Prized for their mid-summer displays, the brush-like
white flowers stand out in any garden. The small,
individual 1/2" diameter flowers are 4-petaled
and tubular with long thin white filaments extending
for more than an inch from the petals. The presence
of small red anthers adds a faint touch of pink to
the overall display. On most specimens, the flowers
are borne in erect terminal panicles held above the
nicely contrasting dark green foliage. Panicles on
var. serotina tend to droop because of their
greater length (12 - 18+"), and are borne 2 to 3 weeks
later than the species. A specimen of the variety
serotina at the Missouri Botanic Garden resembles a
large shaggy white dog when it is in flower in mid-July.
Although the panicles are significantly longer on this
variety, I personally feel the drooping tendency of the
flowers makes it much less attractive than the upright
panicles of the species. The cultivar 'Rogers' was
selected from this variety for long drooping panicles
that range from 18 to 30" in length.
Although looking more like a nut than anything else,
the fruits of
Aesculus species are classified as capsules. Within
these capsules, only
one seed develops to full size while the others
remain much smaller or undeveloped. The tan-brown
colored capsules are pear-shaped, smooth, 1 - 2"
in length and are borne in early fall. They provide
little ornamental contribution to the plant.
Variable in its effect, the fall color on this species
is sometimes an ineffective yellow-green. However, it
the potential to become a clear, bright yellow or a
This is generally a very trouble-free species the leaves of
bottlebrush buckeye are usually free of the leaf blotch
and leaf scorch problems associated with some of the
other buckeyes. I have experienced young plant loss
due to a wilt disease which may have been Verticillium
wilt (unconfirmed). Established plantings are usually
not troubled by serious problems.
Seed needs to be collected in fall before drying or
becoming squirrel chow. The capsules can only
be allowed to dry slightly without losing viability.
After the husks are removed, they should be stratified
in moist sand for about 2 months. This species can
also be propagated by root cuttings; pieces of root
several inches in
length can be dug in late fall. When placed in sand
under cool conditions, shoots should be produced by spring.
Softwood cuttings collected in May and treated with
1000 ppm of IBA will root fairly readily under mist
(Burd and Dirr, 1977).
This is a handsome shrub with an attractive
broad-rounded habit, interesting dark green foliage
and wonderful flowers. It is available in balled and
burlapped and container forms and should be transplanted
into acid to neutral soils with average soil moisture.
It adapts to a range of light conditions ranging from
full sun to moderate shade. It does not require pruning
to maintain its uniform habit, although it tolerates
rejuvenation through cutting back to several inches
above the ground. The suckering nature of the species
will allow it to gradually spread into adjacent areas,
although the plant is not aggressive enough to be
The ability of this species to tolerate either sun or
shade makes it a useful landscape plant in many sites.
I have seen it grown quite effectively under the
shade of large oak trees or in the open full-sun heat
of the South. Plants tend to broaden with time as
they sucker and mass together extremely uniformly.
The potential size of this plant may limit you to a
single plant in smaller yards, but its full beauty is
best seen in larger sites. It makes an eye-catching
specimen as a result of its mid-summer flowering.
Even without flowers the interesting foliage and
broad rounded habit of this shrub are appealing.
It can make an effective summer screen due to its size.
The dark green foliage color makes a nice background for
perennial and annual flower beds. Beautiful specimens
can be observed at Bernheim Forest, Kew Gardens,
and Missouri Botanical Gardens.
Aesculus octandra, Dirca palustris,
Euonymus americanus, Fagus grandifolia,
Hamamelis virginiana, Hydrangea arborescens,
Liriodendron tulipifera, Magnolia acuminata,
The species has no significant medicinal uses.
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New York: Macmillan, 1976.
- Burd, Susan and Michael Dirr. 1977. The Plant
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Plants. Champaign: Stipes Publishing, 1990.
- Dirr, Michael and Charles Heuser, Jr.
The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation: From
Seed to Tissue Culture. Athens: Varsity Press, 1987.
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and Vines for Urban and Rural America. New York:
Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.
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Insects That Feed on Trees and Shrubs.
Ithica: Cornell University, 1994.
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Broad-Leaved Trees & Shrubs, vol. I. Beaverton:
Timber Press, 1976.
- Poor, Janet Meakin and Nancy Peterson Brewster.
Plants That Merit Attention, Vol. II: Shrubs.
Portland: Timber Press, 1996.
- Rehder, Alfred. Manual of Cultivated
Trees and Shrubs. New York: MacMillan
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Trees and Shrubs. Ithica: Cornell University,
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Encyclopedia. New York: MacMillan, 1986.