Tree I.D.: Not for the weak of heart


The Ohio Buckeye Tree is a tree with an identity crisis. We found this out the last several months measuring trees for our Big Tree Contest for 2015.

Every year we pick a tree species for landowners to nominate as part of our contest.

Conservation awards

The winner is determined and then honored at our annual meeting and banquet. This year’s event will be Oct. 24 along with other conservation award winners. We are not alone, as many soil and water conservation districts conduct similar Big Tree Contests.

Tree identification

Our dilemma became clear as we were measuring several trees that either we didn’t know or the landowner nominee didn’t know which tree was which. Was it a Horse Chestnut, a Yellow Buckeye or a Ohio Buckeye? We were not sure ourselves. In fact, we erroneously thought we had selected our winner only to find out we had measured a Horse Chestnut.

Do it again

We then had to get serious about which was which and re-identify and re-measure several trees. We did compare references within the office, pictures, Internet, ID books, etc.

We even checked with two foresters, John Jolliff -Service Forester with the Ohio DNR Division of Forestry and Frank Luppino – a private consulting forester for their input.

Five leaves

In the end we learned there are some differences. For example, the Ohio Buckeye and the Yellow Buckeye have a five leaf cluster.

Seven leaves

The horse chestnut has seven and they are wider and longer than the buckeyes.

Smooth to touch

The outside casings of the nut of the Yellow Buckeye is the smoothest to touch.


The Ohio Buckeye has the beginnings of small bumps which may have the beginning of small sharp protrusions. The Horse Chestnut seems to have the same small bumps but with many more longer sharper protrusions.

Ornamental tree

The Horse Chestnut is more likely found a long a street or in a yard as an ornamental tree.

Flood plains

The Ohio Buckeye is also more likely found in a flood plain and the Yellow Buckeye is more common in southeast Ohio.

We found all three species were entered into our contest supposedly as Ohio Buckeyes and thru the checking process we learned they were different species.

Largest nut. By the way the Horse Chestnut has the largest nut of the three species and my fear is many Ohio State Football fans who wear their large “buckeye” necklaces and other souvenirs may be surprised to learn they are probably showing off Horse Chestnuts or even Yellow Buckeyes.

Ohio Buckeye

The Ohio State tree is officially the Ohio Buckeye.

Real buckeyes?

I wonder if the Governor of Ohio who signed the bill from the state legislature had real Ohio Buckeyes on the table with him when he signed the paperwork or did he have one of the other two species.

Identity crisis

I also wonder if the Native American Indians, who coined the phrase Buckeye, ever got confused between the American Chestnut, the Ohio Buckeye or the Yellow Buckeye nuts.

Probably not! Our winning tree was a true Ohio Buckeye, located in a flood plain with many other Ohio Buckeyes and the owner will receive a nice plaque, free tree seedling packet next spring and two free tickets to our 71st annual meeting.


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Jeff is the District Manager for the Medina SWCD since 2006. Before that he was an area representative with the ODNR Division of Soil and Water Conservation through out Northeast Ohio for most of his career. He worked closely with District Boards of Supervisors and staffs on programs and capacity building.



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