It's that time of year again when the buckeye trees start to turn brown and lose their leaves.
Why is it that you can work in a place that has the world's largest trees, yet what species of
tree do the visitors ask about the most? Those stupid buckeye trees!
In the spring:
"What are those bright green trees with clusters of white flowers shaped like bananas?"
"Why are those trees still blooming and everything else is dead?"
In the fall:
"What are those dead trees with brown pears hangin off of them?"
"Why are all the trees dying?"
"Why are those trees all brown?"
"Is fall coming early this year or something?"
"How come those pear trees are all dead?"
So, are ya'll ready for a little tree education? A California buckeye tree (Aesculus californica) is
a bushy foothill tree, 10-25 feet tall, that grows amongst the Canyon Live Oaks and gray pine
mostly between 1,000 and 3,000 feet in elevation. It is the first tree to leaf out in spring, the
last to bloom, and the first to lose its leaves. It grows from Siskiyou and Shasta counties to
northern Los Angeles and Kern Counties.
Several other buckeyes are native to the United States. The seeds of the buckeye are
poisonous, and resourceful Native Americans used ground-up seeds to catch fish. They poured
them into pools in streams and caught the fish that floated up!
The seed pods do look like a pear from a distance. They are actually a leathery husk that harbors
just one seed each. Botanically speaking, it's kind of odd that a cluster of flowers only produces
one fruit and one seed.
I love buckeyes. In the spring they are almost a flourescent green and that color contrasts
beautifully with the not-quite-green oaks and chaparral. In the late summer they are a rusty
brown, again contrasting beautifully with the now-we're-green oaks and golden grass. In the fall
they are skeletal trees with their Christmas-ornament-like seed pods dangling from their
The seed is considered a good luck charm. If you grind the seeds and leach them enough, they can
be eaten. They also have medicinal properties; they can relieve the pain of arthritis and
|Buckeye Tree in the fall along Highway 190
Sequoia National Forest/Giant Sequoia