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Aesculus x carnea (photo courtesy of Monrovia)
Aesculus x carnea (photo courtesy of Monrovia)

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Zone
Zones vary by species.
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate
Toxicity
Seeds of all are slightly toxic if ingested.

Aesculus

Horsechestnut, Buckeye
Sapindaceae
Deciduous, Shrubs, Trees

These big, bold plants have an almost tropical look. The leaves are divided fanwise into large, toothed leaflets. Showy spring flowers, borne at ends of branches in long, dense clusters, attract hummingbirds. In autumn, leathery fruit capsules enclose glossy seeds. Prune established horsechestnuts only to eliminate dead or damaged wood and any awkward-looking branches.

Aesculus californica (photo courtesy of Saxon Holt/PhotoBotanic)
Aesculus californica (photo courtesy of Saxon Holt/PhotoBotanic)

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Aesculus californica

Native to dry slopes and canyons below 4,000-ft. elevation in coast ranges and Sierra Nevada foothills. This graceful plant grows 10–20 ft. or taller and spreads 30 ft. or wider, often with multiple trunks. The new foliage is pale apple green; mature leaves have five to seven rich green leaflets. California Buckeye is striking in spring, when fragrant, cream-colored flower plumes make it look like a giant candelabra. (Unfortunately, the pollen and nectar of this species are poisonous to honeybees.) Big pear-shaped fruits split to reveal shiny brown seeds favored for dried flower arrangements. Seeds sprout freely; seedlings make unusual bonsai subjects.

In the wild, this plant drops its leaves by July, but if given moderate water, it will hold them until fall. After leaf drop,the silvery trunk, branches, and branchlets create an interesting silhouette.

Aesculus hippocastanum

Native to Europe. Reaching 60 ft. high, with a 40-ft. spread, this bulky, densely foliaged plant gives heavy shade. Invasive roots can break up paved surfaces. Leaves are divided into five to seven toothed, 4–10-in.-long leaflets. Spectacular flower show: ivory blooms with pink markings are borne in 1-ft.-long plumes.

Aesculus pavia (photo courtesy of Monrovia)
Aesculus pavia (photo courtesy of Monrovia)

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Aesculus pavia

Shrub or tree native to eastern U.S. Bulky, to 12–20 ft. tall, with an irregular rounded crown that is nearly as wide. Glossy deep green leaves with five to seven 3–6-in.-long leaflets. Narrow, erect, 10-in. clusters of bright red or orange-red (rarely yellow) flowers. Best choice for humid climates.

Aesculus x carnea (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Aesculus x carnea (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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Aesculus x carnea

This tree is a hybrid between A. hippocastanum and A. pavia. Grows to 40 ft. tall and 30 ft. wide—smaller than A. hippocastanum and a better fit for small gardens. The tree is round headed, with large dark green leaves, each divided into five leaflets; a mature tree casts dense shade. Flowers with a profusion of 8-in.-long plumes of soft pink to red flowers. ‘Briotii’ has rosy crimson blossoms, ‘Fort McNair’ has pink flowers with yellow throats, and ‘O’Neill Red’ has single flowers of bright red.

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