Laurel Rimmer is Assistant Director of Public Programs. Among her many contributions are botanical drawings of plants found at Wave Hill, such as the bottlebrush buckeye drawing below, and the photographic portrait beneath it, too.
The bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) demands attention in the landscape. Not a plant for small city gardens, this southeastern native matures into a multi-stemmed shrub eight to twelve feet tall with an infinite spread, advancing slowly and politely over time. Large compound leaves, showy summer flowers and a dense mounding habit give it a distinctive look in the landscape.
The showy flowers of Aesculus parviflora appear at a time when few other woody plants are in bloom. At Wave Hill, our plants bloom in late June and early July, their large, upright flower panicles temporarily luring butterflies away from the bounty of perennial flowers in other areas of the garden. From a distance, the entire shrub appears to be accented with fuzzy, white rhinoceros horns. Upon closer inspection, the individual flowers have a dainty spidery appearance. Nuts in pear-shaped capsules develop in late summer; they are enjoyed by squirrels but are poisonous to humans. Our large old bottlebrush buckeye dates back to the Perkins era; look for it on the hillside between Wave Hill House and the Aquatic Garden.
Bottlebrush buckeye grows best in rich, moist, well-drained soil in sun to part shade. Once established, it requires no pruning or other special attention. Despite its ease of culture it is not a common plant in the nursery trade, in part because of its rather poor appearance as a young containerized plant. To the untrained eye it resembles a couple of gangly sticks with a few tufts of leaves on top. Gardeners who are familiar with the plant, however, can look past its youthful awkwardness to see its true potential as a beautiful and unusual landscape specimen.