Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Tale of The Red Buckeye

The challenge of starting the "must have" plant is always just around the corner.

So, this is the tale of the Red Buckeye.

Late last spring while at the home of one of our members who has a garden to be envied, I spied a small tree near her driveway with beautiful red blossoms surrounded by hummingbirds.  My friend and gardening expert (whom we shall call Guru Sprout) always has a few unusual plants; many of them she has received along the way at GCA plant exchanges (Px).  This was one. 

The tree was a Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia var. Pavia, also called scarlet buckeye, woolly buckeye and firecracker plant - and it is native to our area!  The Missouri Botanical Garden provides an excellent description.  This tree does not grow nearly as large as the more common yellow buckeye tree.  It is described as a shrub, about 15' in height, with showy flowers that attract hummingbirds.  The plant will tolerate clay soil and some dryness after established.  It will take some shade, but will also tolerate full sun.  The only drawback to being in full sun is that the leaves will tend to turn early and drop. 

Photo of bloom from the Missouri Botanical site
Note: You must watch out for the seeds though as they are poisonous to humans and animals.  They resemble chestnuts.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and my friend called to tell me there were several seed pods on the tree and that I should come and collect, which of course I did immediately.  Now what to do with them.  There were several sites that gave suggestions - most of them indicated to plant immediately and not to allow the seed to dry out.  We decided the best approach would be to contact the original person from Virginia Beach that sent the plant to the Px many years ago.  An email inquiry was answered within a couple of days:

!!! Temperamental...Needs to be treated like a baby
When the seed pods pop while they are on the tree gather the seeds and go to the kitchen. Place the seeds in a saucer and cover with a double layer of wet paper towel. Place on the window sill. Keep towels damp. When the roots begin to show pot them in a deep pot or outside in a raised bed. They like moisture but you cannot keep them too wet or they will rot. They love full sun.

So, into a saucer on my kitchen counter goes one of the seeds.  Because the tree is located on a slight hill in a wooded area, we picked the pods slightly before the husks cracked open as we would lose the seed in the leaves underneath if we waited.   I waited until I had the above email before splitting open the husk as the internet sites also stressed keeping moist.  Once I received Susan and Donna's email I opened the pod - only one seed inside.  It was fairly light colored and I was still not too sure if it was ripe enough.  I am used to seeing the much darker yellow buckeye seed on the ground here.  In the meantime, Guru Sprout spoke to someone who helps her with her yard work and he said that he starts these all the time by just planting pod and all directly into the ground and letting nature take its course - planting about 2-3" deep.  Leaving the covering on will help keep the interior seed moist.  
I took the rest of my 5 pods and planted in various places in my yard, marking the spots with a tall bamboo stick. 
About ten days later a sprout appeared on my indoor attempt!  I thought that was a very quick response time.  I continued to keep the seed moist under the paper towels, but am now ready for step 2.  Today I prepared a deep plastic pot with soiless mix and am getting ready to plant.  Many of the web sites also state that this plant has a deep tap root and will dislike transplanting so I want to insure that my plant will make it through the winter in one pot. 
After having such a wet summer WV is now having a very dry period, so I will keep the pot inside in a saucer where I can keep it evenly moist and then put outside for the winter.  By placing the pot in the saucer I can also bottom water.
I  checked at least one of my outdoor sites and that seed is doing well.  The outer covering has rotted in the soil, but the inside seed is nice and moist and looks in good shape.  I will continue to check occasionally to see if roots are sprouting and how long it take.  Maybe one year soon I will be able to send seeds back to the Shirley Meniece seed exchange! 
Photo of the seed inside the husk.  I picked before the husk split.
This photo shows multiple seeds, but mine only had one.
Photo from Floridata.com.
Seed wrapped in gently moistened
paper towels.

First sprout comes in about 10 days.

September 30.  Getting ready to put
in a deep pot.  This plant puts out a
tap root so a deep pot is preferable.
June 10, 2015
My indoor buckeye did not survive.  I think I over watered during the winter months.  I finally checked on the one above and nothing in the pot except a dried up outer skin.  But the good news is that one of the several that I buried in the ground in my vegetable garden area and marked well with stakes came up this spring.  I don't know if it is the one that I mentioned earlier in the post as I did not make a note of the exact location of that one.   Although small, it is a survivor.  I am leaving it alone and will watch carefully this growing season to see how it progresses.
Seedling in June 2015
 May 27, 2016
I am almost afraid to make this post as I've had so much trouble with this one and don't want to jinx it.  Maybe this summer will be it!  In last year's June 10, 2015 post, I mentioned that there was one that I buried in the ground in my vegetable garden.  It did not make it.  This fall I made it to Carter's house just in time to grab one last seed pod that had started to split open.  I buried it and again forgot about it.  It is up!  Under the same metal hoop/frame as before.  We've had a really rainy spring, so it is doing well.  Now, just to watch closely as the hot, dry weather arrives.  It's been in the 80s this week and so I am watering my small vegetable patch and watching closely.  Here's a photo below. 

Red Buckeye:  Spring 2016

I am reading from the University of Florida plant site: :The Red Buckeye was chosen as a 1995 Gold Medal Plant by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for being a plant of exceptional merit, but underused in landscaping. Red Buckeye will flower well in rather dense shade but takes on its best form when grown in full sun with some afternoon shade on moist, well-drained soil. Plants in flower attract hummingbirds. It is native along moist stream banks so it is not very drought-tolerant."  Good information as I don't think I ever picked up on the 'not very drought-tolerant' part before.  So, that means, I will definitely watch and baby.  My yard does not have a lot of moist spots, so I am going to leave it alone for this entire season, see if it survives and then find a new spot in the fall.