Surprising Colors in Painted Buckeyes (Aesculus sylvatica)

Painted Buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) is an understory shrub or small tree common to the bottomland forests of the Falls Lake area. It is one of the earliest trees to leaf out in the spring, and its large, green, palmate leaves stand out clearly as they unfurl against a background of dead leaves and gray tree trunks. The large yellow clusters of upright flowers are said to resemble a paint brush, and are responsible for the “Painted” portion of the common name. Some Painted Buckeyes show surprising colors in other areas of the tree, and rarely may have pink or red flowers.

The terminal bud scales sometimes display a rich pink color after opening to release the growing leaf shoots, illustrated by the following two photos. On a sunny day, the bud scales catch the eye even at a distance.

Aesculus sylvatica Terminal Bud Scales

Aesculus sylvatica Terminal Bud Scales


Aesculus sylvatica Terminal Bud Scales

Aesculus sylvatica Terminal Bud Scales

Most Painted Buckeyes develop dark green leaves and yellow or yellow/green flowers:

Aesculus sylvatica

Aesculus sylvatica


Aesculus sylvatica bloom

Aesculus sylvatica bloom

Some Buckeyes go through a brief period when the leaves are red or burgundy in color just after they emerge. It is not known whether this is genetic or if it is a function of environmental conditions. The following three pictures were taken in March 2010 in the bottomlands below the Falls Lake Dam. I returned there one year later to see if the red colors were reproduced, but the grove had been wiped out by the construction of the Neuse River Trail.

The first photo shows an interaction of plant pigments, primarily chlorophyll and red pigments like anthocyanin. Both greens and reds can be seen.

Aesculus sylvatica

Aesculus sylvatica

The next two photos show the dominance of red pigments producing burgundy and red colors.

Aesculus sylvatica

Aesculus sylvatica


Aesculus sylvatica

Aesculus sylvatica

The B. W. Wells State Recreation Area has a grove of Painted Buckeyes that produce flowers in various shades of pink to light red. These are rarely seen in the Falls Lake area and are a beautiful sight in the early spring forest. The plants that produce pink flowers are scattered throughout the grove rather than isolated in a small patch. They are few in number compared to the majority of yellow-flowering plants.

One plant produced flowers with light pink, yellow and green colors.

Aesculus sylvatica Mixed Color Bloom

Aesculus sylvatica Mixed Color Bloom

The final two photos are of two Painted Buckeyes with deep pink to pinkish red flowers.

Aesculus sylvatica Pink Bloom

Aesculus sylvatica Pink Bloom


Aesculus sylvatica Pink to Red Bloom

Aesculus sylvatica Pink to Red Bloom

Herb Amyx

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Surprising Colors in Painted Buckeyes (Aesculus sylvatica)

  1. Arleigh Birchler says:

    Very nice photos of painted buckeye. This is one of the 500 taxa of native Carolina plants I am trying to learn more about. I understand that they do hybridize. Is there any chance there are some red buckeye genes in your population?

    • That is a great question, and you have to wonder. The literature seems to indicate that there are true red variants in the Aesculus sylvatica populations, but I doubt if there has been a true genetic study. I don’t know of any populations of Aesculus pavia at Falls Lake, but the distribution maps indicate its presence in adjacent counties to the south of Wake County so it seems a possibility. A. pavia (Red Buckeye) has a lot of color variability of its own, with some looking more pink than red.

      Herb Amyx

  2. Arleigh Birchler says:

    I think the normal variation within the species is probably the more likely explanation, but you are right. It would probably take molecular studies to be certain.

  3. John Pelosi says:

    Herb, your News from Rockcliff Farm is great. I wonder if you are including Falls Lake State Recreation Area staff in your distribution, especially Superintendent Scott Kershner, and rangers responsible for the B. w. Wells areas. Thanks, John

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s