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Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: The Ohio buckeye

  • Article by: Jim Gilbert Special to the Star Tribune
  • September 12, 2013 - 1:11 PM

A small to medium-size tree, standing 20 to 40 feet tall, with a rounded crown, the Ohio buckeye is a tree native to the region stretching from Pennsylvania to Alabama — and as far west as Kansas and Texas. It has also been widely planted throughout much of Minnesota and is known for sprouting attractive yellow flower clusters in the spring. Each of the tree’s dark green leaves is composed of five to seven leaflets, arranged radially, and the shiny seeds are called buckeyes.

The fruit capsules, nearly 2 inches round, have thick husks with weak thorns and contain one or two brown seeds (or nuts) with white caps. The tree’s nut does look something like a big buck’s reddish-brown eyes. Kids and adults find them visually irresistible when the nuts mature and fall from the trees in mid-September.

But don’t eat them. All parts of the Ohio buckeye tree are considered toxic. Just enjoy carrying the rich brown buckeyes around in your pocket as a sign of the autumn season. Some superstitious people have been known to carry buckeye seeds in their pockets to ward off rheumatism or to bring good luck.

The Ohio buckeye has yet another treat in store: The tree’s foliage will change to a pumpkin-orange in a few weeks, soon after the seeds fall.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.

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