Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra)
Sapindaceae, the soapberry family*
(*Hippocastanaceae in older manuals)

How to recognize Ohio buckeye. Look for oppositely arranged palmately compound leaves.

Ohio bucketye has opposite palmately compound leaves.

Distinct as those leaf arrangement and complexity traits are, they seem to be lost on the logo makers who designed this ornamental sign on the OSU campus. We know it’s supposed to be a buckeye, but…?

Iconography and reality.

Ohio buckeye is one of our first trees to leaf out in the spring. Here it is in the last day of March 2009 saying “hello.”

Buckeye leaves emerge early.

Flowers and fruits. Ohio buckeye produces large upright branched clusters of pale yellow flowers. Here’s a a few of them. They are hermaproditic (“perfect”), bearing both stamens and carpels.

Ohio buckeye flowers.

The flowers mature into the famous nuts that resemble the eyes of bucks, apparently. The husks on this species tend to be spiny. This is the main way to differentiate Ohio buckeye from the smooth fruited “sweet buckeye,” Aesculus octandra.

In the winter. Ohio buckeye twigs are stout, with a prominent terminal bud. The leaf scars are large, oppositely arranged, with 3-5m well-defined bundle scars within. Scratch and sniff: they have a skunky aroma (and this is another way to tell Ohio buckleye apart from the non-stinky sweet buckeye).

Ohio buckeye twig.

Where to find Ohio buckeye. E. Lucy Braun, in The Woody Plants of Ohio (1961, 1989; The Ohio State University Press) tells us that this species is “most abundant in second-growth woodlands and thickets.”

Ooh, ooh. I have a question!

We have two species of buckeye in Ohio. How do you tell them apart? The Ohio (foetid) buckeye (Aesculus glabra) is widespread and common, whereas the yellow (sweet) buckeye only occurs in the unglaciated extreme southern part of the state. How to tell them apart? Ohio buckeye twigs scratch and sniff skunky and its fruits are spiny, whereas sweet buckeye isn’t stinky-twigged and the fruits are smooth.

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