January 07, 2016
Last spring, I noticed an interesting seedling plant at the edge of a garden bed. The leaves unfurled in mid-April, just as the Lilies-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) surrounding it were poking through and about to bloom.
It became clear that this was some type of Buckeye (Aesculus spp.). But which one? Seven species of Buckeye are native to North America, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. I posted a photo of the foliage to a plant identification Facebook group I belong to, but there was no definitive answer.
I'm thinking the variegated coloring of the foliage is a clue? Some suggestions were Red Buckeye (A. pavia), Ohio Buckeye (A. glabra), or even Horse-Chestnut (A. hippocastanum), which is native to the Balkans and Southeast Europe but widely cultivated in temperate zones. Someone mentioned this little tree could be a hybrid.
Because I considered it a highly desirable gift from a visiting squirrel or some other garden critter, I potted up the tree, and then tended and observed it throughout the growing season. I placed pine cones around it to serve as mulch and to discourage digging by cats and rodents.
While I wanted to keep the tree, I decided its ultimate garden placement would depend on the species--the largest Buckeyes are tall trees, while the smallest are shrub-size.
Somewhere along the way I ran across information about Bottlebrush Buckeye (A. parviflora), and began to wonder if this was its identity. As spring faded to summer, and then to autumn, two characteristics of Bottlebrush Buckeye were evident with my little tree. First, the leaves showed signs of a light leaf scorch.
In addition, the foliage retained its green color well into mid-autumn, even as other trees around it had colored and lost their leaves. Both characteristics are common with Bottlebrush Buckeye, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Unfortunately, I became busy with other things and neglected to take photos of the foliage when it changed color. I also neglected to take photos of the foliage in the spring, as it unfurled. All the more reason to focus on this tree for this year's "tree following" meme over at the Squirrelbasket.
(For an excellent post about the beauty of Buckeyes unfurling in springtime, check out Karin's post from last spring over at Southern Meadows.)
However, I did manage to look closely at the terminal bud. So much promise there!
For winter, my little Buckeye is living in the garage, with warm layers of snow and leaf mulch for insulation. In a warmer climate, I'd leave it outdoors, but potted plants need a little help through our bitter winters.
No matter what the species, I'll find a place for it in my garden. Buckeyes are considered good luck. Plus, the hummingbirds love the flowers, and one can never have too many hummingbird-attracting plants!
If/when this little treasure blooms, I'll have more clues about its identity. Join me near the seventh of each month for updates posted in the tree following meme. This will be a fun mystery to solve!
(Also, check out Dozen for Diana over at Elephant's Eye on False Bay.)