Range of Aesculus californica
from "
Atlas of United States Trees"
- Elbert L. Little, Jr.

California Buckeye



Aesculus is a medium sized native tree that is typical of north and east facing hillsides and riparian zones. It has a rounded shape. An open grown tree can be wider than it is tall.


Opposite branching. The branches, even the young ones, tend to be thick and widely spaced.


Aesculus is palmately compound. This species has the unusual habit of avoiding the summer drought by losing its leaves during the summer. The leaves emerge in the winter around early March and fall off sometime in July or August.


Aesculus flowers are showy, in panicles or racemes.


Buckeye seeds are large and heavy, between 1 and 2 inches across. The seeds ripen in October or November.

Plant Relationships

Related California Species:


Related Exotic Species:

Aesculus glabra
Aesculus hippocastinum

(Ohio buckeye)
(Horse chestnut) (europe)

Growing Conditions

Natural Range and Habitat:

Buckeye is found from northern California down to Los Angeles county in the Coast Range and down to Kern County in the Cascades and Sierras.
People consider buckeye a riparian plant, and that is where they are typically used in restoration projects, but most buckeyes are found at the edges of open woodlands in the full sun, often on north or east facing slopes. These particular locations have a good moisture supply.
If buckeye is found in a riparian zone, it is in a sunny, exposed area where there are few other trees to compete with. This could be a high spot, slope or area with poor soil that does not support other trees.
Buckeyes are often found within north and east facing grasslands or at the edges of grasslands.
A notable outlier location is the Vasco Caves in eastern Contra Costa County between Brentwood and Tracy. This is a hot, exposed location, where no other trees grow. The buckeyes are evidently benefitting from the moisture captured in the rock formation. They lose their leaves in the early summer, so avoid the problem of the extremely dry, hot summer.

Sun and Exposure:

Buckeyes require full sun to grow. Branches that become shaded usually die back

Soil and Moisture Requirements:

Buckeyes grow in sites with an easily accessible water supply, but they don't grow in wet soils. They seem to prefer well drained locations within riparian zones or on hillsides with a adequate subsurface moisture.

Horticulture and Restoration

Wildlife Habitat:

The flowers and seed of buckeye produce toxic compounds to deter wildlife. The flowers produce pollen which is safe to native pollinators, but toxic to european honeybees. The seeds and large and look like chestnuts, but are left behind by squirrels and deer. They remain on the ground to germinate or to decompose in place.


Buckeye is most often used in riparian projects. It does poorly where the soil is waterlogged for long periods of time, but grows well where the soil is drained.
Consider using buckeye on north facing hillsides in the region just above the riparian zone.

Uses in Landscaping:

This is an attractive, medium to small tree that makes a great addition to the landscape. The flower clusters are attractive, and last for many weeks.

Horticultural Comments:

Sunset Zones 4-10, 12, 14-24
USDA Zones 6-10
The leaves stay on longer in the summer in cool, foggy locations and where the tree receives adequate summer moisture.
The seeds are large and easy to find and collect. They germinate easily but do not store well. Use fresh.

Aesculus californica

California Native
Plant Guide

Cronquist System







APG System







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