by Erik Baard
I have yet to find a woman who’d swoon for buckeye tree flowers before roses, which is probably for the best – better to leave them on the tree. Besides, I can imagine a wood nymph waiting all year for these enormous floral geysers to awaken in parks throughout the city.
Some have compared this tree in bloom to a king in full regalia, but I recall once coming upon a young specimen and thought immediately of St. Lucia. Legend has it that she wore a wreath with candles so that she could have both hands free to carry food to Christians hiding in the darkness of the catacombs.
The tree gets its name from its equally impressive autumn fruit, which looks like a buck’s brown eye. They were once so prevalent across Ohio’s moist prairie bottoms that a state nickname was born.
But back to spring. The spectacle of these flowers is enthralling on all scales. The tree is decked out from bottom to top, which can soar to 90’ in some of the two-dozen species (including Eurasian “horse chestnut” Aesculus genus cousins). The flowers spiral upward in cones that burst with individual beauty. The flowers themselves are white at first glance, but closer viewing is rewarded with little candy drops of yellow, red, and sometimes orange. Look carefully Hubert Steed’s serene photo above of a Central Park buckeye a moment before full bloom to appreciate them.
You’ll notice in the photo, by the way, that a bee is busy at work. That’s a handy reminder to check our coming weekly WildWire post, or scroll down to the “Plight of the Bumble Bee” entry, to learn how you can be part of Bee Watchers 2008!