Horse Chestnut Tree Information
Latin name: Aesculus hippocastanum
Native words: n/a (not native to the British Isles)
Ogham sign: n/a
Height when mature: 30m
Height after 10 years:
Horse Chestnut botanical description:
Famous for its seeds known as ‘conkers’, Horse Chestnuts are not native to the UK. In the winter even young specimens display the fat brown sticky buds which develop into large ‘fingered’ leaves which hang down and have a long stalk. The flower spike of large white or pink hyacinth like flowers is a very attractive sight in woodlands in spring (April). The dark brown bark is heavily scaled on mature Horse Chestnuts, with saplings similarly coloured but smooth. On large specimens, lower side branches often sweep downwards sometimes touching the ground. Like Oak Horse Chestnut can develop a very large spread. By late September the leaves turn golden and fall covering the ground thickly. It is now that the conkers start to fall, often hitting the ground with a loud thud. The seed pod which contains the conker is globular, green and has sharp brown spines, with a soft white interior lining. Many fall before they are ripe and open to show white seeds but the best conkers are big, glossy, mahogany brown and grained; sometimes two or more come in a pod. In the winter, mature leafless trees have a skeletal appearance.
Horse Chestnut natural history and ancient wisdom:
Native to Greece and Albania, the Horse Chestnut was brought to the UK for ornamental reasons in the 17th century. This means it has little ancient folklore attached to it. Many were planted on village greens or in the grounds of stately homes and halls. In the case of the Horse Chestnut it is the seed which is as famous as the tree. Conkers (originally ‘conquerors’) has been played by small boys for centuries, gimleting a hole through the conker before threading string through and tying a knot underneath. The contest is to find the toughest conker by knockout – two contestants take turns in swinging their conker down on the others’ which is held still dangling from its string. The first to shatter is the loser; the winner fights all comers. Rules are important; contestants must not tamper with their conker beyond certain time honoured techniques such as soaking in vinegar! Remember you are not allowed to cook conkers before competition!
Horse Chestnut place names in the UK:
As it is recent introduction, there are no place names associated with chestnut trees.
Horse Chestnut wildlife rating:
Horse Chestnut good points/ bad points:
Keeps children amused for hours! Now susceptible to disease known as bleeding canker where the trunk oozes an orange resin. There is no known cure, and the tree must be felled.