Yellow Buckeye

Yellow Buckeye - Aesculus flava
Buckeye Family (Hippocastanaceae)


Introduction: This beautiful Kentucky native tree is known for its large panicles of yellow flowers, its palm-shaped leaves and, particularly, its distinctive seeds. Yellow buckeye adapts to urban situations better than other buckeyes. The lightweight wood of buckeye was used in making artificial limbs before the introduction of lightweight, Space Age materials.
Culture: Yellow buckeye prefers full to partial sun and deep, rich, moist, well-drained soils. It grows particularly well along stream banks. This tree does not grow well in poor, dry or clay soils. Yet yellow buckeye is more tolerant of urban stresses than other buckeyes. This tree can be messy and needs a large yard or park to thrive. It is best used in naturalized areas. In the appropriate location, it makes a nice shade tree. Yellow buckeye is less susceptible to leaf scorch than other buckeyes. Mildew and lacebugs are not as problematic with this tree as they are with other buckeyes.


Botanical Information
  • Native habitat: Pennsylvania to Tennessee, northern Georgia and northern Alabama, west to Illinois on mountains and in bottom lands.
  • Growth habit: Oval to slightly spreading crown.
  • Tree size: This species can reach a height of 100 feet or more at maturity in its native habitat. Cultivated, it can attain a height of 60 to 75 feet.
  • Flower and fruit: Yellow flowers appear in May on upright panicles 6 to 7 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide. Pear-shaped, 2- to 3-inch-long fruit, a capsule, is smooth and contains one to two shiny seeds.
  • Leaf: Five 4- to 6-inch-long, toothed leaflets are arranged palm-like on short stalks. The dark green leaves become pumpkin color in fall.
  • Hardiness: Winter hardy to USDA Zone 4.


Additional information:
The leathery husk of the buckeye fruit splits in fall and the seed is said to resemble the eye of a deer, to which the common name refers. Aesculus was the Latin name given to an oak or any tree with seeds that were eaten by livestock; flava is derived from the Latin word flavens (yellow) and refers to the buckeye's flowers. This species was previously called A. octandra and is sometimes still sold under that name. Unlike some buckeyes, yellow buckeye husks are smooth without having spines. The seeds of yellow buckeye are poisonous to humans if eaten raw. Native Americans detoxified the seeds with a roasting procedure using hot rocks. Bookbinders have benefitted from the toxic properties of buckeye. A paste is made from the seeds and used in bookbinding to deter insect damage.

Yellow buckeye was introduced into cultivation in 1764. Grand specimens of yellow buckeye are growing in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio. The national champion yellow buckeye (136 feet) is in Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Kentucky champion tree is in Larue County and is 140 feet tall.
Yellow buckeye wood is soft, weak and doesn't resist decay. It also has a bad odor when green. The seasoned wood is odorless, white and lightweight. Yellow buckeye wood is used for crates, boxes and inexpensive furniture. The bark of yellow buckeye is interesting with smooth plates on young trunks leading to flaking strips on older specimens. Yellow buckeye usually has five leaflets per leaf. 

One feature that distinguishes it from Ohio buckeye is the small teeth along the margin of the leaflet. Its pumpkin color fall foliage is quite attractive. Yellow buckeye also has prominent buds that add winter interest and beauty. Yellow buckeye has been hybridized with A. pavia and A. glabra to yield interesting hybrids with a range of flower color.

Print fact sheet