fallen hero: bottlebrush buckeye

fallen-aesculus-2THE SAYING GOES THAT A THING OF BEAUTY is a joy forever. I guess “forever” in this case is in the mind’s eye. My darling, oldest bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) went down for the count a week ago, or at least half of it did, and there’s nothing beautiful about the aftermath of its demise.

The bottlebrush buckeye, one of four around the yard, had grown to a hummock-shaped thing of about 10 feet high and 15 or so feet across, a community unto itself with many suckers beneath the oldest stems. This suckering habit will prove to be its (and my) salvation, as younger shoots are known to grow several feet a year, which gives me hope that in time I’ll have my hummock back.

fallen-aesculusI waded into the fallen mess carefully just yesterday, once I’d had time to really look at it for a few days from all angles and think about the right approach to its rejuvenation. (Up top is how the damaged shrub looked from the house; just above, from farther out in the landscape, looking toward home.)

Could any of it be saved, I wondered, after such disfigurement by a freakish storm? Three of the oldest stems were gone, leaving a hole where probably one-third of the plant’s volume had been. I say I went in carefully, because I didn’t want to damage what might prove to be a well-placed sucker that was its best hope for a future. I carried out the dead, and had a look around (below, the thicket of suckers beneath where the fallen stems had grown).

suckering-habitI love this big, irregular cloud of a plant, native to the Southeast of the United States, which produces not just early summer blossoms but pear-shaped seedpods and then yellowish fall color.

It was hot yesterday and again today, the kind of heat that pushes flower buds to open faster, faster, faster, and so as if on cue to say “Thanks for not cutting me down, Mom,” guess who started to really bloom?


  1. Rick says:

    May your cautious and careful movements be rewarded with a strong and healthy sucker emerging from the center! Long live the bottlebrush!

  2. margaret says:

    @Rick: Blessings in return for yours.

    @Andrea: Yes, they can be separated and made into a colony of their own, but as with cutleaf staghorn sumac (which also colonizes by suckering) I have to say I win some and I lose some. “Suckers” by their nature are sometimes shallow-rooted and can suffer if uprooted, or so I have experienced.

  3. Andrea says:

    How amazing is nature? As sad as part of it falling was, I think your beautiful bottle brush has a wonderful shape to it now.
    Can suckers be transplanted to make new trees?

  4. Fern says:

    Awww. Bummer. :-(

    One of my neighbors had a gorgeous, really old jade plant next to the opening of her driveway. The other day someone used her driveway to turn around and rammed the jade plant, whacking off a portion. From what I can tell, my neighbor has been following a similar approach as you are with this bottlebrush. The dead limbs are just laying there, I suspect until she gets over the shock and decides how to best reshape her plant.

  5. Dee/reddirtramblings says:

    Maybe we love our gardens so much because they are ephemeral, transient. Sometimes that change causes sadness, but I love your attitude about the suckers. I hope you are successful in rejuvenating your shrub.~~Dee

  6. s says:

    It’s one of my faves, also, and I look forward to seeing it suckered all over my woodland garden.
    Let us know how the rejuvenation goes. Do you think any type of pruning would have helped prevent this?

  7. phil says:

    another bonus provided by the bottlebrush buckeye: although i am ground zero for deer foraging, my ten BBs have never been touched by the vermin. and they grow very nicely in part shade too. hooray for the bottlebrush!

  8. Dooryarder says:

    Margaret – I fell in love with this shrub at Wave Hill a few years ago. An ancient specimen grows beneath some venerable trees opposite the big house. Even my younger editions are surprisingly lush in the summertime – given their spindly architecture. Sorry for your gap. I’m looking forward to reading more how you deal with it – fascinating blog you have here. By the way, when did you install your AP? Did you plant one shrub or several?

  9. Robin Wedewer says:

    It’s sad to lose a beautiful and lovely plant like that one. On the bright side, you get to go plant shopping now!

    Robin Wedewer
    Gardening Examiner

  10. Layanee says:

    The garden can sometimes be so disappointing! What a lovely old plant! I do have one which is not quite that big and it was pruning which brought it to its’ present size so maybe yours will respond with greater vigor!

  11. margaret says:

    @S: Welcome! I am not sure–was just talking tonight about the situation with the man who started Wave Hill (yes, @Dooryarder, that’s where I first saw it, too!), we agree it may just be old age and lots of rain and bad storms, a dangerous combination. I am going to see what happens this summer and fall, then re-examine the main crown where the oldest shoots (including those that cracked at the base) emerged from, and if it seems strong. If not, more pruning will happen then. Not sure how I would have pruned earlier, because the hummocky mounds of a thing is what you want…hmmmm…..

    @Dooryarder: I really cannot recall…I think I brought home just one in a two-gallon nursery or maybe a 5-gallon from Alan Haskell’s Nursery in Rhode Island eons ago, not more than that. My other three were from balled-and-burlapped specimens, each single plants, and are of a later-blooming variety with very, very long flowerheads. I like the one that fell, the straight species, best.

    Welcome, Robin. We shall see if I get a free pass to go shopping…the suckers may like the added sunlight and take up all the room fast and leave me none for newbies!

  12. Matt Mattus says:

    I was worried when you left HOME GROWN, but now I discovered your fabulous blog! My hero….someday I hope to ‘retire’ at a young age from my corporate job too. Good for you, you deserve it.

    You might be interested in my gardening blog for people who like unusual or rare plants – exploraculture.blogspot.com. I am thinking of moving over to another URL or WordPress. Do you like it?

    Happy gardening, and R.I.P. Mr. Aesculus, although, I had the same problem but it has re-sprouted from the base and blooming again after a 4 year break.

  13. margaret says:

    Welcome, Matt, and thanks for re-finding me. :)
    I just took a little visit to your blog, thank you, and have many times been in Worcester MA and nearby Boylston, where great horticulture has a very long history (and many gardening friends of mine live).
    As for WordPress, can’t say enough how empowering and wonderful it is (and they were nice enough to note my “beautifully designed” use of it recently, as you probably saw). A great platform. Truly.

  14. Brent says:

    Sorry to hear about the bottlebrush. Two weeks ago the wind caught hold of our fruit-laden, top heavy cherry tree and split it right in half. We have a splint on it right now but consulted someone at the local university about what to do next. They recommend inserting a bolt through the tree to hold the two pieces together. What do you think?

  15. margaret says:

    @Brent: Depends how bad the split is whether it can be cabled or bolted back together (or neither). It is commonplace to support multiple trunks of old trees that way, and of course is better to do preventively rather than after disaster strikes. Best to analyze your other trees as well for vulnerability.
    My buckeye is looking surprisingly OK after the loss of the big chunk, but I expect I’ll lose more parts this fall. Just a feeling after looking at the base and how/where the splits occurred. We shall see.

  16. Mary says:

    This is all great information. When is the best time to prune the buckeye? And what fertilizer would you suggest? I have two suffering from spot leaf and want to give them a good feeding to strengthen them.
    Anyones help would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Mary. Is yours a bottlebrush buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, like mine? I didn’t know they were seriously affected by leaf blotch, which is usually just unsightly not harmful to the plant in any major way. Important to clean up all the dead leaves under it this fall as disease can overwinter if not.

      It’s naturally a very big shrub, so doesn’t want to be confined or kept small, though you could prune it very hard to sort of start over in early spring if absolutely necessary. I suppose you could also prune a bit after flowering, but I think that would spoil its natural shape, frankly.

      Don’t feed anything this late in the year; early spring is the time, if you think it really needs it. I have never fed any of mine in all these years here.

  17. Catherine says:

    Isn’t it odd to say goodbye to old friends when you least expect it? I am sad for your loss but evolution is part of our process. And Margaret, I do find myself saying ‘excuse me’ if I bend a branch of my Euronymous while passing by so I can totally relate to your ‘Thanks for not cutting me down, Mom’ comment. I look forward to what you will do next. Have fun on your tours! Catherine

  18. kim says:

    I have a bottlebrush buckeye. The scent is wonderful and the butterflies love it too. Definately one of my favorites as well….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.