Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ohio Buckeye Unfolds Now

Now is the time for our state tree - the Ohio Buckeye - to begin unfolding its leaves. And unfold it does: the leaves are compressed within a thick bud and seem to unwind in a sort of explosion. One day they are closed, then there is the beginning of a gap, and a warm day follows and they are now green leaves.

I planted this particular buckeye in the meadow to the north of our house and it is one of several that has had a hard time acclimating. As the tree is native to these parts, I can't quite understand why.
Commonly called an "American Horse-chestnut", even a "Fetid Buckeye" (for the scent of the twigs and leaves when crushed), the tree is not particularly pretty when an adult, but gangly and thin. It looses its leaves early, even late summer. It stands there bare before fall has fairly started.
And yet I love it for the seeds themselves, mahogany-shiny and waxed as though they came from an expert polisher. As a child, I'd find these at the local creeks and I'd stuff my pockets with them. And yet the shine does not last. A collection of them left in a basket were soon dull and lifeless. If the seeds are poisonous, I don't care. I love them for their appearance.
The capsule itself which holds the shiny seeds has the same feel as the inside of an orange peel, thick and whitish and spongy. When ripe it peels apart with a jab of a fingernail in a rib. It is satisfying to peel these, see the seeds packed against one another as a litter of babies in a womb.
Old wives tales say a buckeye carried in a pocket will ward off rheumatism. Tell that to my father, will you?