Steve Bender

You don’t have to live in Ohio to love this little tree.

To a lot of people, shade is a problem. “Nothing blooms in the shade,” they complain. “All we have is moss, mildew, and mushrooms.”

This is not very nice to moss, mildew, and mushrooms. There they are in their assigned habitat admirably performing their assigned functions, and getting bashed for it. No wonder their need for psychological services has never been higher.

The truly sad thing about this abuse is that it’s totally misdirected and ignorant. Many plants bloom in the shade. The one I want you to lust for today is a small, carefree tree called red buckeye (Aesculus pavia).

Native to the eastern U.S., red buckeye is usually found in the understory of mature woods. While it does fine in partial sun, it also likes shade. I have several that bloom every spring in the woods behind my house. Maintenance is zero.

And what a bloom! Ten-inch spikes of red, pink, or (rarely) yellow blooms stand tall atop the deep green foliage on a tree that may reach 10 feet high. Hummingbirds love them, which is why the hummingbirds traps I set up around them are always bursting with hummingbirds I use for my special s’mores. How many trees or shrubs can you think of that bear red flowers in shade? While you’re ruminating on that, we’ll move on.

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Red buckeye is very easy to grow in USDA Zones 6-9. It’s one of the first trees to leaf out in spring, as well as among the first to drop its leaves in late summer. The latter may mislead you into thinking the tree is dying. In fact, it’s a very effective defense against drought. Late summer is a time of high heat and little rain. While other trees suffer, red buckeye escapes by dropping its leaves and thereby reducing its water needs to just about zilch. It survived last fall’s awful drought like nothing happened.

If moss, mildew, and mushrooms don’t pop your cork, plant some red buckeyes. Grumpy approves this message.