I've never taken the time to research how the Buckeye (Horse Chestnut) was chosen as Ohio's state tree. I remember as a kid, walking along the creeks of Miamisburg, and being thrilled when I found one of these trees in the fall just as their fruit dropped to the ground. The spiny capsule, a warm tan color, could be split apart at one us its seams with no more than a well-placed fingernail. And if it was ripe, several shiny buckeyes would be nestled inside like babies in a womb.
The capsule that held the fruit was spongy, something akin to the skin of a thick orange. If the fruit had not ripened, it might be a mottled brown or even a pale white if it was earlier still. We'd collect these buckeyes, even mail them to out-of-town relatives.
But now, in April, the trees are just beginning to unfold their leaves in a sort of bold, even tropical, explosion. The expansive leaves, tightly packed in a small space, unwind among themselves, feeling for the sun. A few weeks ago, they were no more than a swollen spot on the end of each twig. And now - suddenly! - this.
I was told as a child that carrying a buckeye in my pocket would prevent arthritis. An old wives tale, perhaps, but I am free of the illness today while my father is crippled. Those of us who threaded the creeks in Miamisburg, would gather buckeyes by the bucket, open the tender capsule and marvel at the mahogany-hued nut inside. It was a singular natural creation, of utmost importance, right here in our own backyards; it was one we gathered for no reason than their exquisite beauty.
Now the tree is rare. I don't remember when I saw the last one in the wild. And few are planted. The trees provide little shade, drop the fruit (which creates a clean-up chore for suburban lawns), the nuts are poisonous (or so I've heard) and the trees loose all their leaves in late summer at the earliest hint of a dry spell.
And yet I have fond memories of the tree and have planted several here at Pinehaven. Isn't it reward enough to watch this marvelous unfolding each spring?