The “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees” lists six species of the Buckeye family as native to North America. One, the Ohio buckeye, is the state tree of Ohio, while the others grow in different parts of the nation. The buckeyes feature leaves shaped like an outstretched hand, clusters of flowers in the spring and a nut that gave the tree its name because people thought it looked like the eye of a deer.
The yellow buckeye and the Ohio buckeye are easily the tallest of the buckeyes trees, with both able to grow to heights approaching or slightly exceeding 100 feet. The Texas buckeye is lucky to be 20 feet tall, while the red buckeye, while it can grow to 30 feet, is often only about 10 feet in height. The painted buckeye can reach 30 feet tall, and the California variety may grow 40 feet high.
Buckeye leaves are palmately compound, which means that the leaves radiate from a central point on the stem in a spreading pattern. The yellow buckeye has from five to seven leaflets on one stem, while Ohio buckeye, red buckeye and painted buckeye typically have only five leaflets. The Texas buckeye may have from seven to 11 leaflets; California buckeye, according to the “Trees of North America” guide, has from four to seven. The leaflets on buckeye trees are similar in length, with most in the range of 4 to 6 inches.
The buckeye with the largest native range is the Ohio buckeye, a tree that grows from Ohio westward to states such as Kansas and Oklahoma. The yellow buckeye exists in states such as Kentucky, Tennessee and western Virginia and North Carolina. Red buckeye is a species of the lower Atlantic Coast and the Deep South, while painted buckeye grows from the Carolinas through Arkansas. Texas buckeye is native to eastern Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and the California species grows in that state.
Buckeye trees prefer rich soil, and, although they tolerate shade, they grow quicker and fuller in a full sunshine environment. Buckeye trees often drop their leaves to conserve moisture in times of drought; so keeping the ground moist will help a tree to flourish. The larger buckeyes work best in a landscape where they have room to grow. The shade created by their leaves will seldom allow any other vegetation to grow beneath these trees.
The nut that buckeyes produce is poisonous. It develops in a rounded, hard capsule that possesses spines. The nut has a brownish color with a light area in its center. The young shoots of the buckeye are also toxic, as is the tree's bark. Native Americans would take the seeds and bark of the buckeye, crush them into a powder and then throw the mixture into water, where it would render fish immobile and easy to harvest.