The genus Aesculus (// or //) comprises 13–19 species of trees and shrubs native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere, with 6 species native to North America and 7–13 species native to Eurasia; there are also several hybrids. Aesculus exhibits a classical arcto-Tertiary distribution. The genus has traditionally been treated in the ditypic family Hippocastanaceae along with Billia, but recent phylogenetic analysis of morphological and molecular data has caused this family, along with the Aceraceae (Maples and Dipteronia), to be included in the soapberry family (Sapindaceae).
Linnaeus named the genus Aesculus after the Roman name for an edible acorn. Common names for these trees include "buckeye" and "horse chestnut". Some are also called white chestnut or red chestnut (as in some of the Bach flower remedies). In Britain, they are sometimes called conker trees because of their link with the game of conkers, played with the seeds, also called conkers. Aesculus seeds were traditionally eaten, after leaching, by the Jōmon people of Japan over about four millennia, until 300 AD.
Aesculus species have stout shoots with resinous, often sticky, buds; opposite, palmately divided leaves, often very large (to 65 cm across in the Japanese horse chestnut Aesculus turbinata). The seeds of the Aesculus are traditionally used in a game called conkers in Europe. Species are deciduous or evergreen. Flowers are showy, insect- or bird-pollinated, with four or five petals fused into a lobed corolla tube, arranged in a panicle inflorescence. Flowering starts after 80–110 growing degree days. The fruit matures to a capsule, 2–5 cm diameter, usually globose, containing one to three seeds (often erroneously called a nut) per capsule. Capsules containing more than one seed result in flatness on one side of the seeds. The point of attachment of the seed in the capsule (hilum) shows as a large circular whitish scar. The capsule epidermis has "spines" (botanically: prickles) in some species, while other capsules are warty or smooth. At maturity, the capsule splits into three sections to release the seeds.
The species of Aesculus include:
- Aesculus arguta: Aesculus glabra
- Aesculus californica: California buckeye (western North America)
- Aesculus × carnea: red horse chestnut
- Aesculus chinensis: Chinese horse chestnut (eastern Asia)
- Aesculus chinensis var. wilsonii: Wilson's horse chestnut (eastern Asia)
- Aesculus flava (A. octandra): yellow buckeye (eastern North America)
- Aesculus glabra: Ohio buckeye (eastern North America)
- Aesculus hippocastanum: common horse chestnut (Europe, native to the Balkans)
- Aesculus indica: Indian horse chestnut (eastern Asia)
- Aesculus neglecta: dwarf buckeye (eastern North America)
- Aesculus parviflora: bottlebrush buckeye (eastern North America)
- Aesculus parryi: Parry's buckeye (western North America, endemic in Baja California del Norte)
- Aesculus pavia: red buckeye (eastern North America)
- Aesculus pavia var. flavescens: Texas yellow buckeye, yellow woolly buckeye (eastern North America, narrowly endemic in Texas)
- Aesculus sylvatica: painted buckeye (eastern North America)
- Aesculus turbinata: Japanese horse chestnut (eastern Asia, endemic in Japan)
- Aesculus wangii: Aesculus assamica (eastern Asia)
The most familiar member of the genus worldwide is the common horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum. The yellow buckeye Aesculus flava (syn. A. octandra) is also a valuable ornamental tree with yellow flowers, but is less widely planted. Among the smaller species, the bottlebrush buckeye Aesculus parviflora also makes a very interesting and unusual flowering shrub. Several other members of the genus are used as ornamentals, and several horticultural hybrids have also been developed, most notably the red horse chestnut Aesculus × carnea, a hybrid between A. hippocastanum and A. pavia.
Use in alternative medicine
Aesculus has been listed as one of the 38 substances used to prepare Bach flower remedies, a kind of alternative medicine promoted for its effect on health. However according to Cancer Research UK, "there is no scientific evidence to prove that flower remedies can control, cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer".
- Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
- Hardin, JW. 1957. A revision of the American Hippocastanaceae I. Brittonia 9:145-171.
- Judd, WS, RW Sanders, MJ Donoghue. 1994. Angiosperm family pairs. Harvard Papers in Botany. 1:1-51.
- Harrington, Mark G.; Edwards, Karen J.; Johnson, Sheila A.; Chase, Mark W.; Gadek, Paul A. (Apr-Jun, 2005). "Phylogenetic inference in Sapindaceae sensu lato using plastid matK and rbcL DNA sequences". Systematic Botany 30 (2): 366–382. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Harlan, Jack R. (1995). The Living Fields: Our Agricultural Heritage (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press. p. 15. ISBN 0-521-40112-7.Harlan cites Akazawa, T & Aikens, CM, Prehistoric Hunter-Gathers in Japan (1986), Univ. Tokyo Press; and cites Aikens, CM & Higachi, T, Prehistory of Japan (1982), NY Academic Press.
- Hardin, JW. 1957. A revision of the American Hippocastanaceae I. Brittonia 9:145-171
- Hardin, JW. 1957. A revision of the American Hippocastanaceae II. Brittonia 9:173-195
- Hardin, JW. 1960. A revision of the American Hippocastanaceae V, Species of the Old World. Brittonia 12:26-38
- D. S. Vohra (1 June 2004). Bach Flower Remedies: A Comprehensive Study. B. Jain Publishers. p. 3. ISBN 978-81-7021-271-3. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
- "Flower remedies". Cancer Research UK. Retrieved September 2013.
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Aesculus
- Forest, F., Drouin, J. N., Charest, R., Brouillet, L., & Bruneau A. (2001). A morphological phylogenetic analysis of Aesculus L. and Billia Peyr. (Sapindaceae). Canad. J. Botany 79 (2): 154-169. Abstract.
- Aesculus glabra (Ohio buckeye) King's American Dispensatory
- Winter ID pictures