Friday, April 06, 2007

Buckeyes


For Brian, whose regular chanting of "what the hell's a buckeye?" during the game last week almost shook the windows:

It might be a disappearing custom, but when I was a kid, old men carried buckeye seeds in their pockets. The smooth brown seeds of the shrub have a large white spot in the center, hence "buckeye." Cherokee and some southern tribes were known to carry buckeyes for good luck on their hunting excursions. In Arkansas' Ozarks, the seeds are sold as a cure for rheumatism. Making a poultice of the ground up seeds evidently stops swelling, but I think the seeds are sold to encourage regular hand exercises as the seed is fondled in the pocket.

Buckeye seeds, once they mature, are known to be toxic to wildlife. In the true spirit of sportsmanship, ground up seeds have been used to make fish groggy and float to the top of the water. Deer avoid the foliage and if young leaves are foraged by livestock, they can be deadly. But the exquisite red tubular flowers, rich in nectar, bloom just as hummingbirds are arriving in the spring.

As a plant of embayment uplands, red buckeyes, a member of the horsechestnut family, are rather common in southeastern states. There are several species of buckeye in America, some that flower yellow, others white; in Missouri, the yellow flowering populations are found north of the embayment in moist woods and slopes. In Missouri, they live on the sandy ridges of Crowley's Ridge, where it is the main understory component, west towards the Current River Hills, and the river bluffs of Cape Girardeau, where it lives in spotty populations in the beech forests. Despite its rather limited range, red buckeye populations are thriving in Missouri. In Kentucky, the plant's status is threatened.

The list of curative properties attributed to buckeyes is long: a poultice made of ground up seeds stops dyspepsia and swelling of sprains. Powdered bark stops toothaches. The roots can be used as a soap substitute. Several other healing properties are listed in Paul Hamel's Cherokee Plants and their Usage. Most of the healing and useful properties of the plant were discovered by Native American tribes. However, I guess none of those properties offer the ability to stop a large reptilian predator from squashing the buckeyes' dream.

2 comments:

Ted M. said...

Aesculus pavia - I saw plants of what I'm sure are this species in the White River Hills of Taney Co. (Mincy Conservation Area along Fox Creek). I managed to rear a few uncommonly encountered beetles from a dead branch of one.

Allison Vaughn said...

You know what's crazy, just last week along the Jack's Fork, I was led into the woods with hands over my eyes, leader laughing, saying, repeatedly, "you're not going to believe this.." and behold, a red buckeye! On the Jack's Fork! I called George about this and will tell him about the Taney Co. population. Steyermark (63) has it only in the embayment and just west of Crowley's Ridge.