A Horse of A Different Color

Aesculus hippocastanum Flower in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Aesculus hippocastanum Flower (photo: www.comanster.edu)

Aesculus hippocastanum, or common horse chestnut, is a popular choice for park settings and a perfect tree for a large lawn.  Not to be confused with our nearly extinct American Chestnut, Castanea dentata, horse chestnut is native to Southeastern Europe, hardy in zones 4-7, with an expansive architecture reaching over 80′ tall and 40′ wide (at a growth rate of 2-3′ annually).  Horse chestnut prefers full sun with moist soil, has palmate, five fingered foliage that may bronze in fall, and a lifespan over 150 years. It produces cone shaped, lightly fragrant oatmeal colored blossoms in May, with separate male and female flowers on the same tree. Aesculus hippocastanum is also known for its curious golf ball sized (toxic-not edible), prickly fruit that falls in late summer. Following are a few other large aesculus alternatives to consider:

Flowers of Red Horse Chestnut in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Flowers of Red Horse Chestnut (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Red horse chestnut, Aesculus X carnea is a hybrid (A. hippocastanum-horsechestnut x A. pavia-red buckeye) that was discovered in Germany in 1812, and happens to be my personal favorite.  Incredible spires of rosy pink flutter open in late May, held proudly at the end of each limb, and when the blossoms fade the deep green curved foliage creates a lovely canopy to relax under. Extremely adaptable, though it prefers moist, fertile soils, it will grow in a range of pH conditions and adapts to sandy clay or loamy soils as well. (Note: I have found the foliage of my red horse chestnut to scorch during hot, dry summers, and though it has not affected the overall health in any way, you may want to supplement with water and consider locating it where it may get protection from late afternoon sun.)  In zones 5-8 you can expect “Red” to grow to 35′ tall and wide in approximately forty years, providing your landscape with a fabulous, showy shade specimen.

Yellow Buckeye in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Yellow Buckeye (photo: wikimedia.org)

Yellow buckeye, Aesculus flava is named for its creamy yellow pyramid shaped flowers (flava means yellow in Latin) that appear in May, followed by curious almond colored fruit in late summer.  This zone 4-8 native of the Eastern United States is capable of growing to 70′ tall  and 50′ wide, with a fast growth rate up to 36″ per year. Low on maintenance requirements, Blondie also likes moist, well drained soils in full to partially sunny conditions, and will grace you with gold foliage in her fall finale.

Ohio Buckeye in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Ohio Buckeye (photo: www.extension.iastate.edu)

Ohio Buckeye, Aesculus glabra is also native to Midwestern United States (zones 4-7), but tolerates wet, well drained acidic soils in full sun to part shade, making it a perfect option for gardens by a stream or wetland.  Glabra is a little smaller than yellow buckeye, growing to 45′ tall and 30′ wide, at a rapid rate up to 36″ annually as well.  The flowers are upright cones of lemony yellow that appear in May, and foliage turns to shades of gold and orange in autumn.

Aesculus x Carnea in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Aesculus x Carnea in our back yard (photo: Kathy Diemer)

As you can see, horse chestnuts in any form are a great addition to many types of landscape conditions, providing you have the space to accommodate them.  No matter which one you choose (I omitted the smaller, equally delightful cousins aesculus pavia and a. parviflora for another post), try planting in a permanent spot, as chestnuts have a long tap root that won’t tolerate relocating.

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