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.
Most Painted Buckeyes develop dark green leaves and yellow or yellow/green flowers:
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.
The next two photos show the dominance of red pigments producing burgundy and red colors.
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.
The final two photos are of two Painted Buckeyes with deep pink to pinkish red flowers.