Aesculus alba (Poir.) Raf.
Aesculus macrostachya Michx.
Aesculus macrostachys Pers.
Aesculus odorata F.Dietr.
Macrothyrsus discolor Spach
Macrothyrsus odorata Raf.
Nebropsis alba (Poir.) Raf.
Pavia alba Poir.
Pavia edulis Poit.
Pavia macrostachys Loisel.
Pavia parviflora Raf.
Pawia parviflora Kuntze
Cultivated plant - just coming into flower
Photograph by: Sten Porse
Aesculus parviflora is a much-branched, deciduous shrub forming a dense mound of growth up to 4 metres tall. The plant suckers and can form thickets[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a medicine, food and source of materials. A very ornamental plant, it is often grown in parks and gardens, especially for its floral display[
The plant is poisonous, containing the glycoside aesculin, the saponin aescin, and possibly alkaloids. The symptoms include muscle weakness and paralysis, dilated pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, paralysis, and stupor - death has been known to result[
The seed is rich in saponins[
]. Although poisonous, saponins also have a range of medicinal applications and many saponin-rich plants are used in herbalism (particularly as emetics, expectorants and febrifuges) or as sources of raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. Saponins are also found in a number of common foods, such as many beans.
Saponins have a quite bitter flavour and are in general poorly absorbed by the human body, so most pass through without harm. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of raw foods that contain saponins.
Saponins are much more toxic to many cold-blooded creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish and make them easy to catch[
Southern N. America - Georgia and Alabama to Florida.
Wooded bluffs and rich woods, also by streams, on the coastal plain[
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Ornamental, Wild
Aesculus parviflora is a surprisingly hardy plant, tolerating winter temperatures down to about -20°c, although young growth in spring can be susceptable to damage from late frosts[
]. Some reports say that it grows best in a continental climate[
], whilst others say that it does very well in maritime climates[
Grows best in a shady position[
], but succeeds in most situations in sun or shade[
]. Plants are very shade tolerant[
]. Prefers a deep loamy well-drained soil but is not too fussy[
Plants fruit best after a long hot summer. Even within the northern parts of its own native range, cultivated plants rarely produce fruit[
Plants are slow to establish[
The flowers have a delicate honey perfume[
Spreads freely by suckers[
]. Grows well on a lawn[
Seedlings quickly develop a taproot and larger plants can be difficult to transplant[
Seed - cooked[
]. It can be dried and ground into a powder and used as a gruel. The seed is quite large and easily harvested, though it is rarely produced in Britain[
]. Unfortunately, it is rich in bitter-tasting saponins and these need to be leached out before the seed can be eaten. See notes on toxicity above.
The following notes apply to Aesculus californica, but are probably also relevant here:-
The seed needs to be leached of toxins before it becomes safe to eat - the native North Americans would do this by slow-roasting the nuts (which would have rendered the saponins harmless) and then cutting them into thin slices, putting them into a cloth bag and rinsing them in a stream for 2 - 5 days[
]. Most of the minerals etc would also have been leached out by this treatment[
The plant is antiperiodic, antirheumatic[
]. Used in the treatment of colic, piles, constipation and whooping cough[
Plants can be used as a tall ground cover for large areas of land[
]. They are slow to establish but eventually form large spreading clumps[
Saponins contained in the seed are used a soap substitute[
]. The saponins can be easily obtained by chopping the seed into small pieces and infusing them in hot water. This water can then be used for washing the body, clothes etc. Its main drawback is a lingering odour of horse chestnuts[
Wood - easily worked. Used for making water troughs, packing cases, tea boxes, ornamental articles etc[
Seed - best sown outdoors or in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe[
]. The seed germinates almost immediately and must be given protection from severe weather[
]. Seedlings develop a large taproot following germination and so, if grown in containers, should be given sufficient root room[
]. The seed has a very limited viability and must not be allowed to dry out. Stored seed should be soaked for 24 hours prior to sowing and even after this may still not be viable[
]. It is best to sow the seed with its 'scar' downwards[
]. If sowing the seed in a cold frame, pot up the seedlings in early spring and plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer.
Root cuttings 5 - 7 cm long in December. Store the roots upside down in sand and pot them up in early to mid spring[
]. Grow them on until they are 20cm or more tall and then plant them out into their permanent positions, preferably in late spring or early summer after the last expected frosts.
Division of suckers in the dormant season[
]. The suckers can be planted out direct into their permanent positions if required.