California Buckeye – Aesculus californica
Other Names: California Horse-chestnut, bahša qh ále (Kashaya Pomo).
Distinctive Characteristics: The California Buckeye is identifiable by its beautiful 6–10-inch-long erect clusters of pinkish-white flowers in Spring, distinctive palmately compounded, deciduous leaves with 5 to 7 leaflets, and large, poisonous seeds known as buckeye nuts, that are shiny outside of their husk. These deciduous trees are notable for their early leaf drop in summer; they are often mistaken for being sick or even dead. They can be easily identified in late summer, fall and winter with their thick, light colored bare branches with hanging light-colored ornament-looking seed pods.
Distribution: Native to western and northern California, reaching into Southern Oregon and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range. Elevation: sea level to 5,600 ft. (1700 m).
Ecosystem: Often grows on slopes alone or with other trees in mixed woodland, oak grassland, or mixed evergreen forests, intermingled with Valley Oak, Oregon Oak, Coast Live Oak, California Bay Laurel, Blue Oak; and at higher elevations with Black Oak, Gray Pine, Ponderosa Pine, and Interior Live Oak.
Maximum Age: Approximately 300 years.
Maximum Height and Girth: 46 ft. (14 m) in height; 14 ft. (4.2 m) in circumference.
Animal Community: The pollen and nectar of the Buckeye flowers are vitally important to native bees and butterflies, but toxic and deadly to the European honeybee.
Medicinal: Smashed nuts were used for a hemorrhoid remedy (Kawaiisu, Costanoan). A decoction of bark was used for toothaches (Costanoan, Mendocino Indian).
Food: Although not as popular as acorns, Buckeye nuts were traditionally prepared for eating by first boiling or roasting them, and then by leaching out their bitter tannins with water. The potato-like meal, called dihsa, was said to be good with meat, seafood, and baked kelp (Kashaya Pomo, Luiseno, Ohlone, Costanoan, Kawaiisu, Mendocino Indians, Miwok, Tubatulabal, Yana, Yuki).
Tools and Objects: The raw nuts, which contain a toxin, were also ground and tossed into water to stun fish for easier catching (Costanoan, Pomo, Kashaya Pomo). The wood was used to make bows and drills for fire-making (Kashya Pomo). The wood was made into bowls (Kawaiisu, Mendocino Indians).
Threats and Conservation: Not threatened.