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June Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Bottlebrush Buckeye

When it comes to native shrubs, I have many favorites, and Bottlebrush Buckeye is definitely one of them. Just look at these huge inflorescences--one at the tip of each and every stem! This native plant is one of the most beautiful flowering shrubs in the whole United States.



The botanical name Aesculus parviflora given to this buckeye by the famous botanist William Bartram seems to contradict what I see in my garden. The word parviflora means "small-flowered," and I'd consider these blooms to be anything but small. Oh well, this world is full of contradictions. 

Mr. Bartram discovered Bottlebrush Buckeyes in the 1700's during his travels through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Although for some reason, this shrub is still not widely planted in American gardens, like so many of our native plants, it is appreciated by British gardeners. It was introduced to British nurseries in the 1800's and has been propagated and sold in Europe ever since. Aesculus parviflora is so loved in England that it received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden MeritDon't you think that award is very well deserved?


But as you know, beauty is not everything. Beauty is as beauty does, so they say. And Bottlebrush Buckeye does beautiful things in my garden! All it needs to look like this is full sun and plenty of water. 

Huge white bloom spikes appear in June and July and are very fragrant. The large blooms shaped like a bottlebrush can be up to a foot long. (I told you Mr. Bartram named it wrong!)  Bottlebrush Buckeye attracts all kinds of pollinators, and when in bloom, bees and butterflies are all over the flowers.

Even if this shrub did not bloom, it would be beautiful in the landscape. Palmately compound leaves are large and give the bush a tropical appearance. They begin as large bronzy green leaf buds in Spring and open into bright green leaves that are fuzzy underneath. They kind of droop, which I like. The leaves turn a nice shade of yellow in Fall before dropping. 

The pollinated blooms will develop a large rough seed pod that will burst to reveal a hard shiny brown nut. This buckeye not is is not edible for humans, but squirrels and deer love it. The seeds are very viable, and if not eaten by wildlife, they germinate at about a 100% success rate.

Bottlebrush Buckeye is a spreading shrub that needs space to show off its beautiful form. At maturity, it will be up to 12 feet tall and just as wide.

Aesculus parviflora can be grown just about everywhere. Although it is native only in the Southeastern United States, it can be grown as far north as Maine. This buckeye is hardy in USDA Zones 4-8.

Although it usually is found growing as an understory plant beneath large trees and near water, you can grow it quite successfully in any garden. It will grow very well in the shade, but it won't bloom very much. Plant it in full sun where you can reach it with a hose, and you'll be rewarded year after year with show-stopping blooms that deserve to be photographed.

You probably won't see Bottlebrush Buckeye in nurseries here except those who specialize in native plants, but this is one shrub that is worth seeking out. 

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