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Buckeyes may bring you pocketsful of good luck

On a recent visit to my parents in Gatlinburg, I was flooded with memories of a tree I once visited often, especially at this time of year.

“Here’s a few buckeyes,” said my mother.

“Put them in your pocket, they’ll bring you luck.”

My father Russ often carries a lucky buckeye in the fall.

It’s a tradition I seem to have inherited.

“Where did you get them?” I asked her.

“From the buckeye tree down the road,” she replied.

Of course, I knew the tree. I once passed it every day while walking home from school.

“Do you think we can find some more?” I wondered.

The dark brown glossy seeds I was holding looked like polished mahogany.

Buckeyes are about the size of chocolate-covered cherries.

They are from the tree family known as “horse-chestnuts,” not because horses eat them, but because the trees are stout as workhorses.

Several buckeye species are native to North America.

Bottlebrush, red, Ohio and California buckeyes are found outside our region.

Painted and yellow buckeyes are found here in the Tennessee Valley.

The name, buckeye, describes the large seeds that, to some, resemble the eyes of male deer.

Yellow buckeye, also known as sweet or big buckeye, grows to be the groups’ largest species.

Its preferred habitat is moist, dark humus in bottomlands and coves.

The young shoots and seeds contain glucoside, a toxin harmful to animals.

The wood from a yellow buckeye is the softest of all native hardwoods making it undesirable as lumber, but as a shade tree it’s superb.

The two things I learned as a child were that the seeds are poisonous and, if properly respected and carried in your pocket, they would bring you luck.

The two edicts might be related because it’s far better to carry one than to pop it in your mouth like a true chestnut.

But do buckeyes truly bring you luck?

I realized that I had never put the bit of folk wisdom to the test.

Stuffing my pockets full (that’s a total of 96 buckeyes), I decided to buy myself two lottery tickets.

I don’t advocate playing the lottery because I think you might as well throw your money off a bridge.

But I could think of no simpler way to test the buckeyes’ power.

If the dark seeds bring you luck, then I should have been positively oozing good fortune.

Never had I walked into a convenience store with such utter confidence.

It was like the holiday I knew my new Gilbert “Hall of Science” Microscope and Lab Set was already wrapped and under the tree, several days before Christmas.

I felt the outcome was preordained, and all I had to do was look surprised and graciously claim my prize.

I bought two $2 tickets for a game called “Mountains of Cash.”

That was because I thought the name was appropriate for testing my buckeye-luck.

Returning to the car, I self-assuredly went to work on the silver opaque scratch-offs.

The first ticket was a dud.

But the second hit a payday, and I won $15.

That meant I had more than tripled my original investment in three minutes.

Case closed.

Buckeyes in the pocket are indeed lucky. Maybe I should try Wall Street next.

Anyone know a good $2 stock?

Lyn Bales may be reached at the Ijams Nature Center, 865-577-4717, or e-mail him at

His book, “Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley,” will be published early in 2007.


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