Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Red Buckeye - Aesculus pavia   L.
Members of Aesculus with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Sapindales » Family Hippocastanaceae
AuthorL.
DistributionThe southeastern Coastal Plain, ranging north to Jones and Robeson counties. Records in RAB (1968) up the Cape Fear River system north to Alamance County in the Piedmont appear to be in error, and presumably refer to the very similar A. sylvatica which display some red coloring. Absent from the Sandhills portion of the Coastal Plain.

This is a Southern species, ranging north only to central NC and central MO, south to central FL and central TX. It generally is absent in the Appalachians and other mountain ranges.
AbundanceGenerally uncommon, to locally infrequent, and mainly restricted to narrow streamside or riverside corridors.
HabitatIn NC, the species usually is found along smaller blackwater streams, but where the soils are circumneutral as opposed to acidic – not a normal combination. (Blackwater streams usually have acidic waters.) It is found mainly where marl is close to the surface.
PhenologyBlooms from April to early May, and fruits in July and August.
IdentificationThis is the least common and thus least known of the three native buckeyes in the state. This species is mostly a medium to large deciduous shrub, rarely a small tree, growing to about 10-12 feet tall, rarely to about 25 feet. It may have several stems as opposed to a single large one. It has the standard buckeye leaf –- composed of five large palmately-arranged leaflets, each being elliptic and about 4-5 inches long. The petioles may be red or pink, and if so, may be enough for identification. However, if the petioles are greenish, you likely will need to see flowers, which are a dark red or rose color, in terminal panicles with each flower being at least 1.5 inches long. When in bloom, you can easily see the species from a moving vehicle! Painted Buckeye is similar but has yellowish to pinkish-yellow flowers; when not in bloom, you might not be able to identify these two species, though a buckeye in the Piedmont, or in the upper Coastal Plain along brownwater river floodplains, is best called a Painted Buckeye.
Taxonomic CommentsMost references do not list any varieties, though Weakley (2018) does, as there is a variety in the Edwards Plateau in TX. Thus, he considers all of the plants over the eastern half of the country as the nominate variety – A. pavia var. pavia.

Other Common Name(s)Scarlet Buckeye, Firecracker Plant
State RankS4 [S3]
Global RankG5
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