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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - June 11, 2013

From: Newburyport, MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Shrubs
Title: Bottlebrush buckeye not leafing out from Newburyport MA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have a bottlebrush buckeye bush that has grown and blossomed for 16 years. This spring the bush failed to produce any leaves and there are no buds in anticipation of leaves. There are a few smaller undergrowth stems that do have leaves. Is there anyway to save this bush? If it needs to be removed, can the smaller stems be saved?

ANSWER:

Here is a very recent Mr. Smarty Plants question on this same plant from Pennsylvania. According to this USDA Plant Profile MapAesculus parviflora (Bottlebrush buckeye) does not grow naturally in Massachusetts at all, much less in Essex County in the far northeastern tip of the state. However, since it has been growing there for years, it has obviously adapted. We have another previous answer on bottlebrush, this is Callistemon ssp. but this link is from the Australian Native Plants Society, and the plant would not be in our Native Plant Database or our area of expertise.

However, whichever one it is, we would advise that you first give it the thumbnail test -starting at the topmost branch, use your thumbnail to scratch off a very thin layer of the outer bark. If there is a thin layer of green under that outer layer, that shrub is alive. If not, keep working your way down the shrub until you find green, which may not be until you get to the lower stems. If that is the case, you can trim off the upper branches, and begin to treat the lower branches as the whole bush. Water carefully, as needed, but DON'T FERTILIZE! Fertilizing already stressed plants to put on new growth just stresses the plant more.

Note that the pictures from our Image Gallery below are of the native Aesculus parviflora (Bottlebrush buckeye). Here are pictures of the non-native Callistemon.

 

From the Image Gallery


Bottlebrush buckeye
Aesculus parviflora

Bottlebrush buckeye
Aesculus parviflora

Bottlebrush buckeye
Aesculus parviflora

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