What is a California Buckeye?

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  • Written By: Misty Amber Brighton
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 13 December 2019
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A California buckeye, sometimes called a California horse chestnut, is a small tree that produces a toxic nut known as a buckeye. It is a deciduous shrub that is, as its name implies, native to California. It has a light-colored flower and dark green foliage. It is often used as an ornamental plant or for controlling erosion.

This tree typically grows to between 1.22 and 3.66 feet (4 to 12 m) high, with a spread that is roughly the same size. It is usually very round and bush-like in appearance. The foliage may begin close to the ground, or it may only be located near the top of this ornamental plant.

The leaves of a California buckeye are usually medium or dark green and very shiny. They are somewhat oval-shaped with a tapered point at the end. The edges are slightly serrated, or saw-toothed, in appearance. It generally grows in star-shaped clusters of five to seven leaflets. This tree is among the first to drop its leaves, with the first ones usually falling in mid-summer each year.

There are normally white or very light pink flowers that appear in spring. These blooms are located on a tall spike that is around 5 to 7 inches (about 15 to 20 cm) long. They are usually between 1 and 3 inches (about 5 to 8 cm) wide. These blossoms often have a very sweet fragrance to them that might attract butterflies.


The California buckeye tree may have more than one trunk. It is usually covered in dark gray bark. There may also be moss or lichens — an algae-type plant — on its surface.

The flowers develop into a round nut that is usually dark brown or reddish-brown in color. This is typically between 1 and 3 inches (about 5 to 8 cm) long. It contains a brown or orange seed that usually measures from .79 to .197 inches (2 to 5 cm) in length. This seed is poisonous if ingested, so it should be kept away from animals and small children.

This ornamental tree does not normally choke out smaller plants in a backyard garden, so it can be a good choice for a home landscape. The California buckeye also grows well in forested areas alongside live oak, digger pine, and black oak trees. No matter where it is planted, this hardy shrub is likely to thrive for a number of years with only minimal needs.



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