Bottlebrush Buckeye Blows Me Away

This summer shrub shows off through fall.

Bottlebrush Buckeye Shrub

Faithful readers, as you know, Grumpy was recently accused of favoring non-native plants, an indictment that wounded me deeply. I have always treasured our indigenous botanical wonders and cultivate them all over my garden. Here is one I would like to bring to your attention that I grow and you probably don't, but should—a marvelous woodland shrub called bottlebrush buckeye.

Native to the southeast but adapted to a much larger area, bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) gets its name from showy, white, summer blooms that resemble bottlebrushes and its dark, shiny, inedible seeds that remind you of chestnuts or buckeyes. In the wild, you usually find it growing in the shady forest understory. The shrub slowly suckers, but not aggressively, forming colonies up to 12 feet tall.

Bottlebrush Buckeye
Steve Bender

Twelve-inch bloom spikes stand atop the foliage in June and July. As you can see, a big bottlebrush buckeye can be quite the sight. But the show doesn't end in summer. In fall, large, palmate leaves consisting of five to seven leaflets change from deep green to glorious bright yellow. I can't think of a better shrub for fall color in the shade.

Bottlebrush Buckeye Fall Foliage

People often expect the prettiest plants to be a pain to grow, but that certainly isn't the case here. Bottlebrush buckeye needs moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shade. That's it. I've never seen it attacked by any pest. It thrives in USDA Zones 5 to 9.

Because it suckers, it's an easy shrub to propagate by division in fall or winter. It's also easy to start from seed, but there's a trick. You must harvest the seeds as soon as the seed husks open and the seeds drop to the ground. Don't wait until they dry out. Plant them about an inch deep where you want them to grow and they should sprout next spring.

WATCH: 10 Essential Plants Every Southerner Should Grow

Frankly, I think this post lays to rest the notion that Grumpy doesn't like native plants. Find the right spot for this one in your garden and you'll like it too.

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