Sidewalk Nature: Bottlebrush Buckeye

buckeye capsule
Bottlebrush buckeye capsule

“Bottlebrush buckeye!” I yelled on the sidewalk, but not super loud, so I wouldn’t embarrass the middle-schooler with me. 

“Hmm,” said the middle-schooler. “I thought it was a ball in a sack.”

We were both right. All buckeye seeds hang in a ball in a sack. 

This buckeye was a native Bottlebrush, so these particular seeds began as a wand of fluffy white flowers that looked like . . . a bottle brush. 

The shrub grows beside a busy sidewalk at our school’s Outdoor Classroom but is easy to miss. Pollinators obviously found it—bees, flies, butterflies. The nectar and the tubular flower shapes also attract hummingbirds.

Even I missed the blooms this spring. Here’s a picture of the same plant in early July, after the flowers were already past their prime:

Aesculus parviflora (“small flowers”)

And a few days later, well past:

there’s an assassin bug hunting here, see it?

Aside from the “ball in a sack” dangling over the sidewalk, the weirdest phase of a buckeye is when it leafs out in early spring. Candelabras of compound leaves erupt from each bud, with the now superfluous bud scales curled below like old flower petals. This pic is from April 11th:

leafing out

 

It’s hard to believe a passerby hasn’t yanked today’s ball in a sack off the stem yet.
Talk about low-hanging fruit.

Maybe no one’s seen it?
Or knows there are glossy, brown buckeyes inside it?
Or knows that a buckeye—as long as you don’t EAT it—is lucky?

 

(Buckeye fruit is toxic to humans and livestock, but squirrels can eat it.)

 

#nativeplantsforpollinators #gardeningforwildlife

 

Aesculus parviflora is native to the Southeastern U.S. Here are the plant profiles for Bottlebrush buckeye at Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Morton Arboretum.

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