Family Hippocastanaceae – Horse-Chestnuts & Buckeyes

Family Hippocastanaceae – Horse-Chestnuts & Buckeyes
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Consisting of three genra a 15 species, this small family is sometimes lumped together with Aceraceae (maple) in family Sapindaceae[2].

Japanese horse-chestnut (Aesculus turbinata) in bloom; flowers are a 12-18 inches tall
Members of the family Hippocastanaceae are trees or shrubs, usually deciduous. Most widespread genus is Aesculus. The American genus Billia and the Chinese genus Handeliodendron are also sometimes included. One distinctive feature is the palmate compound leaves.[1]

Members of this family are closely related to the large, mostly tropical family Sapindaceae, and some systems of plant taxonomy include the members of the Hippocastanaceae along with members of the Aceraceae in an enlarged family Sapindaceae. Recent molecular phylogenetic research (Harrington et al. 2005[2]) has shown that while both Aceraceae and Hippocastanaceae are monophyletic in themselves, their removal from Sapindaceae sensu lato would leave Sapindaceae sensu stricto as a paraphyletic group, particularly with reference to the genus Xanthoceras. Therefore it is now usually synonymized with subfamily Hippocastanoideae [3].

Three genera and 15 species: Asia (Himalayas to Japan), SE Europe, North America, also Central and South America (Billia); two genera (one endemic) and five species (two endemic, two introduced) in China. The Hippocastanaceae, together with the Aceraceae have recently been treated within the Sapindaceae by some authors, e.g., Stevens, Angiosperm Phylogeny Website (2001 onward) [2].

The abundant, large nuts of trees in this family contain much starch but are apparently not suitable for food because they contain a poisonous glucoside, aesculin. Native Americans ate yellow buckeye nuts but first they roasted the nuts among hot stones, peeled, mashed, and leached them with water for several days. This treatment apparently removed the aesculin.

Young shoots and seeds of buckeye have been reported poisonous to livestock, and some landowners in Indiana have eradicated buckeye for this reason. Because the seeds of yellow buckeye are poisonous, wild animals do not use them for food and therefore animals probably do not limit the reproduction of this species. The wood is used for pulpwood, woodenware, and sometimes for lumber.

yellow buckeye conkers and bark

Toxic buckeyes
Yellow Buckeye - Aesculus flava
Yellow Buckeye
Aesculus flava
Japanese Horse Chestnut - Aesculus turbinata
Japanese Horse Chestnut
Aesculus turbinata

Aesculus glabra
Ohio Buckeye
Common Horse-Chestnut
Common Horse-Chestnut
Aesculus hippocastanum
Damask Red Horse Chestnut – Aesculus x carnea 'Plantierensis' 05/14/2015
Flowering Plants Index 05/14/2015
Horse Chestnut – Aesculus hippocastanum 05/14/2015
Japanese Horse Chestnut – Aesculus turbinata 05/14/2015
Ohio Buckeye – Aesculus glabra 05/14/2015
Oklahoma Buckeye – Aesculus glabra var. monticola 05/14/2015
Tree Encyclopedia 05/14/2015
Tree Encyclopedia for Mobile 02/10/2015
Tree Encyclopedia Index 05/14/2015
Tree Index for Mobile 05/14/2015
Umbrella Horse Chestnut – Aesculus hippocastanum 'Umbraculifera' 05/14/2015
Yellow Buckeye – Aesculus flava 05/14/2015
Damask Red Horse Chestnut - Aesculus x carnea 'Plantierensis'
Damask Red Horse Chestnut
 Aesculus x carnea 'Plantierensis'

Umbrella Horse Chestnut - Aesculus hippocastanum 'Umbraculifera'
Umbrella Horse Chestnut
 A. hippocastanum 'Umbraculifera'


  1. John White and David F. More, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees, 2nd ed. (Timber Press 2005).
  2., Flora of China, ‘Hippocastanaceae'
  3. Wikipedia, Hippocastanaceae

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