A mature bottlebrush buckeye can be up to 15 feet wide and 8 feet high. This specimen in Ann Arbor, Mich., is about 15 years old.
By Joseph Mooney
Native plant of the week: Bottlebrush buckeye, Aesculus parviflora
“What is that plant?” asks nearly everyone who sees bottlebrush buckeye, especially when this stately woody shrub is in bloom. In fact, this underappreciated native plant elicits commentary in almost every season. When in bloom, the 12-inch+ flower stalks resemble, yes, bottlebrushes. In fall, the leaves turn a rich golden yellow. And in summer, large compound leaves with five to seven leaflets extend from long petioles on branches that mound to a symmetrical hummock shape.
Native plant aficionados take note: while A. parviflora is native to the southeastern U.S., it grows well in zones 4-8. At Matthaei Botanical Gardens a large stand grows near the perennial garden, and a 15-year-old plant in the author’s garden continues to flourish in a somewhat dry shady spot and through the cruelest winters with no dieback whatsoever. Have you noticed the deer in SE Michigan? They walk on by bottlebrush in search of tastier things.
Bottlebrush buckeye produces pear-shaped fruits that contain poisonous seeds. The seeds of plants grown in more northerly locations are usually not viable. Photo by Jim Robbins.