Red Buckeye: a hummingbird favorite!


By Jane Malec, EMGV

The are many great reasons to put a red buckeye tree in your landscape. This small tree will help you attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. It was a past winner of the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society Gold Medal Plant award. The bright flowers along with the light brown flaky bark and the coarse open habit make for an interesting ornamental plant. Plus, and here’s some great news, it is very deer resistant!

The Aesculus pavia has several common names – red buckeye, Scarlet buckeye and firecracker plant – and is considered a large shrub or a small tree. It’s common name, buckeye, comes from its seeds which are dark brown with a pale scar and resemble the eye of a male deer.

There are several cultivars including the Spendens which is smaller growing, 8-12”H x 5-12”W, and the Humilis which can grow over 30’ in the wild. The growing habit will differ with its location. The Red buckeye loves the sun and will grow its tallest in this environment. However, it will be susceptible to leaf scorch if it gets too much of our brutal afternoon sun. Keep it mulched and water in order to keep the roots cool. As always the best advice is morning sun and afternoon shade!

The Red buckeye will adapt to a shady spot as well which will result in a more open shrub-like habit and fewer flowers but it will thrive.

Speaking of flowers, hummingbirds and butterflies love this plant! The flower buds will emerge with spring foliage growth. They are 1-1/2 long, usually a beautiful bright red and in clusters of 6 to 10” tall when fully open. Red buckeye is one of the first plants of the season with red tubular flowers. You can expect the panicles to emerge from mid-March to mid-April. Operation Hummingbird in York County, SC ranks this plant in the top ten best hummingbird-attracting plants. Bees will also love the nectar producing flowers.

So, here is one strong word of caution when deciding to include this plant in your landscape. The often quite abundant fruit is highly toxic. The shiny nuts can be attractive to small children and some pets and will cause kidney failure. Keep the Red Buckeye close enough to enjoy the wild life that are attracted to it but far from the active places in your environment. Creating a welcome habitat for nectar loving friends doesn’t mean every plant must be close to your home.

A final note – when looking for feedback on this article, I received encouragement from a wise person from Ohio. She ended her comments with “anything Buckeye made her happy”. That probably isn’t true for those who are fond of Wolverines but as for me…I will be planting Buckeyes!