Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial

Red Buckeye

Aesculus pavia
Bartram’s Garden, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Since I was attracted by the autumn colored big palmate leaves of Horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), in 2014, I started to learn about the members of the Aesculus genus. In the genus Aesculus,  6 species are native to North America, and they are commonly called buckeye. The remaining species are native to Eurasia. I became obsessed with buckeyes and, fortunately, I found specimens of Yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava), Painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica), and Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) in Fairmount Park and a specimen of Bottlebrush buckeye at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.  But I didn’t see a Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia), until I visited Bartram’s Garden.

When I took a workshop on landscape painting at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia in May, 2015, I happened to see a Red buckeye blooming.  I jumped up and set my chair near it and sketched it along with painting the landscape of Bartram’s house and barn. The dark red color of the flowers and the shiny dark green leaves were so attractive. I was surprised by the numerous flowers in corn shaped inflorescences, because I saw an illustration of a Red buckeye with only 5 flowers in an inflorescence in Philip Miller’s Gardeners Dictionary published in 1740 in London.  The inflorescences may have evolved in the past 300 years to predominantly showy and productive.


Red horse-chestnut (Aesculus x carnea) is a hybrid of Horse-chestnut and Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and it is believed to have appeared first in Germany before 1820. I found a Red buckeye at the Bartram’s Garden, so I simply thought that the plants or seeds of the Red buckeye which John Bartram sent to Peter Collinson in England were the ancestors of Red horse-chestnut.  But the first bloom of a Red buckeye in England was recorded at the garden of Thomas Fairchild in 1711 when John Bartram was 12 years old.  So before Bartram, someone must have sent Red buckeye to Europe.  In the Gardeners Dictionary, it is called Scarlet horse-chestnut.


According to the lists of plants of the Philadelphia Nursery of John Bartram and Son in 1792, they offered Red buckeye.  John Bartram might have brought Red buckeye to Philadelphia from his expeditions to Carolinas, Georgia and Florida where Red buckeye was native at that time. In the Handbook of the Flora of Philadelphia and Vicinity (published in 1904), they found a Red buckeye in Bartram’s Garden. It was fun to think about the history of Red buckeye which I was sketching while playing hooky from the landscape painting, and I felt happy to live in Philadelphia where the Bartrams lived. 
Read more about this artist’s work: 18th Annual International
  • © 2016 Keiko Nibu Tarver
    Red Buckeye
    Aesculus pavia
    Watercolor on paper
    19" x 16"