Ohio: Home of the Buckeye!

Native Ohio flora
Native Ohio flora | Source

It’s not for nothing that Ohio, that Midwestern state positioned along the southern shore of the Great Lake of Erie, is nicknamed The Buckeye State. For Aesculus glabra — more commonly known as the Ohio buckeye, the American buckeye, or even the fetid buckeye — appears aplenty throughout Ohio’s rolling hills and dales. And that is why the buckeye is Ohio’s State Tree, even though the spread of the Ohio buckeye ranges from Ontario to the Nashville Basin.

A medium-sized deciduous tree (meaning one that loses its leaves each year), the mature Ohio buckeye can soar as high as 80+ feet, in an upright, irregularly globular crown of spreading palmate leaves spanning 30 feet or more. The trees broad dark leaves make room for spring flowers and rounded seedpods appearing throughout the summer. The spiky seedpods eventually split to reveal the nut-like seeds. Getting their name from their resemblance to a ‘buck’s eye’, those seeds are roughly golf-ball sized and dark brown with a pale dot of a whitish basal scar. Other trees of the Aesculus family are known throughout Europe as horse chestnuts for similar reason.

Though the nutty seeds of the buckeye are plentiful upon the ground in fall, they contain tannic acid, and are thus poisonous to cattle, and noxious or worse to humans. Early Ohio native tribes would extract that tannic acid by blanching, for subsequent use in the tanning of leather.

Ohioans still eat their buckeyes, however: a popular local confection is that of a peanut butter fudge ball rolled in milk chocolate to resemble the buckeye. Malley’s Chocolates of the Greater Cleveland area specializes in making a popular chocolate buckeye candy, especially to mark key events of the annual season of the Ohio State University Buckeye Football Team. (If you’re ever at an OSU Football game, keep your eyes peeled at half-time for the romping team mascot with the round brown head, Brutus Buckeye.)

Ohioans have also long been referred to as Buckeyes themselves. Legend has it that one of the co-founders of Ohio’s earliest city of Marietta, the tall and imposing Colonel Ebenezer Sproat (1752-1805), so greatly impressed the local Native Americans that they called him Hetuck, meaning Eye of the Big Buck deer. The name of Buckeye was also later granted to William Henry Harrison, future ninth President of the U.S., during his tenure in Congress in the 1810s.

The Buckeye name has since been attached to many entities throughout the State of Ohio, including a passenger train that ran between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the Ohio breed of Buckeye chickens, the T-2 Buckeye trainer aircraft produced by the North American plant in the state capitol city of Columbus, and many of the athletic teams of schools throughout the state (such as those of Nelsonville-York High School in Nelsonville, Ohio).

One of the cherished summertime memories of many an Ohio childhood was collecting scores of the hard buckeyes from backyards and treelawns. Whether converted into slingshot ammunition, firecracker victim, creek skipper, neck-cord amulet or school diorama component, the ubiquitous buckeye proved endearingly handy.

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Comments 13 comments

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Hi Rick! Everything I ever wanted to know about buckeyes, is right here. You have done our state proud! This is really an interesting hub, Rick, and I sincerely mean that. I really did not know all this about buckeyes. I had heard they were poisonous, but never knew how or why. So, I learned a lot by reading this. Thanks for a great hub!

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

Thanks, S. Trust a bibliophile like me to never forget any bit of buckeye trivia no matter how obscure.

Kyricus profile image

Kyricus 4 years ago from Ohio

I'm curious as to the name "fetid buckeye." I find for the most part they have no odor, let alone a fetid one. I notice you said they are considered noxious to humans but, at least to this human, I've never noticed it.

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

Kyricus: I meant noxious only if eaten. I have never hand any problem handling buckeyes in my youth.

pagesvoice profile image

pagesvoice 4 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

Voted up and interesting. Well, now I know the rest of the story regarding the Ohio Buckeyes. Your article was in depth and extremely informative. Now I feel compelled to write one along the same lines, but covering the Syracuse Orange area. LOL

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

Thanks, pagesvoice. I look forward to reading about the Syracuse Orange, as I have a number of friends and acquaintances that are Syracuse alums.


BLACKANDGOLDJACK 4 years ago from Blitzburgh area

Go Buckeyes!

How bad are you going to rub it in that the Buckeyes beat Syracuse yesterday?

The only thing Ohio needs now is a pro football team.

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

Hey, BAGJ, you're right about that whole football team thing . . . (Maybe next year? decade? century?) Wasn't trying to rub anything in — I wrote this Hub weeks before March Madness began and I don't even follow basketball anyway. I was inspired instead by our attractive and well-liked Buckeye tree. But now I s'pose I should start writing about orange trees . . . :)


BLACKANDGOLDJACK 4 years ago from Blitzburgh area

Hey Rick, I don't know nuttin about nuts, but Bobby Knight is my favorite Buckeye.

How come you don't have a link to a hub for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in your Cleveland ones?

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

Actually, BAGJ, you can go to my author page at Examiner.com where I am the Cleveland Architecture Examiner and you'll find not only the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, but also Cleveland Browns Stadium, Jacobs Field (Progressive Field), and Quicken Loans Arena, among all sorts of others . . .

Pamela N Red profile image

Pamela N Red 4 years ago from Oklahoma

Great information. If the buck eyes are harmful why do people still eat them?

Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

I grew up in Columbus - this sure brings back memories! We had a hug buckeye tree in our backyard, and it really is a beloved tree. In Ohio. Thanks for the information on Cleveland! I like your photo of the greenery and tree, by the way!

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

Thanks, Pamela & Marcy! I guess when you see one of those shiny red-brown nut-like seeds, it's hard to imagine them making you queasy or sick — they are far more attractive and luscious looking than walnuts or brazil nuts, for example. Besides, kids will be kids, and its hard to resist trying something that litters the ground of one's play field all fall.

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