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good-luck buckeyes in Grinnell

While in Iowa last weekend for meetings at Grinnell College, my husband and I took a walk on the east side of campus. When we attended Grinnell in the 1980s, this part of campus was undeveloped; the only building east of the railroad tracks on this block was the health center, a nondescript, low-slung brick building. Now a new row of dorms lines East Street.

We admired the way the architect oriented these dorms in relation to those on North Campus: when you stand in the arch between Rawson and Gates Halls and look east, you can see clear through the arch in Rose Hall down 9th Street to the park on Penrose. The sightline seems endless.

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For a moment we puzzled about this bend in the loggia–when everything else is so linear, why the curve here? We looked to the east and realized why.

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A giant yellow buckeye tree (Aesculus flava) stands between Lazier Hall and Kershaw Hall. My husband was delighted at the find. Compared to the Ohio buckeye, the yellow buckeye tree is much taller and the leathery husk on the fruit is smooth versus the Ohio buckeye’s spiny, warty husk. The name “buckeye” describes the nut’s appearance, which is said to resemble a male deer’s eye. I checked the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, and I found this particular tree on their Big Trees of Iowa list. At last measure, it was 74 feet tall, with a 9-foot, 3-inch trunk circumference.

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Buckeyes littered the ground and we gathered up as many as we could carry. As my father-in-law and our friend Mary Kate have told us, buckeyes are good-luck charms. When they were kids, they would carry them in their pockets for good luck and rub them on their noses to shine them up. My husband remembers there being another buckeye tree outside the college bookstore. During the fall, he would pocket buckeyes on his way to class. Sadly, that tree is gone.

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We brought the buckeyes home, intending only to display them. However, when we showed our find to Daughter #2, she asked, “Why don’t you try to grow a tree?” I am always up for a gardening challenge! The germination rate is only 50%, so I think I will plant several in pots and leave the pots outdoors for the winter, watering occasionally. We’ll see if anything emerges in the spring.

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2 thoughts on “good-luck buckeyes in Grinnell

  1. In Maine, we have discovered Buckeye chickens–beautiful dark red/brown birds that are cold hardy and very sturdy. I’m on the look out for a few in my very small flock. So, it was truly fun to ready your post and see the tree and the nut. Thanks so much.

    • I had never heard of buckeye chickens, so I looked them up–their mahogany color is beautiful. Given their characteristics, they would be perfect for your locale. Good luck finding some–I was sorry to learn that the breed is considered “threatened” due to their low numbers.

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