Forest 4 - Horse chestnut


Aesculus hippocastanum

Aesculus hippocastanum conkers in Forest 4 Aesculus hippocastanum flowers in Forest 4

Other common names

Conker tree

Origin of the species name

Aesculus is Latin for a type of oak; hippocastanum is Latin for horse chestnut (from horse-shoe-shaped leaf scars).

Family

Sapindaceae

Date planted

August 2009

Lifespan

Horse chestnuts can live for 300 years.

Aesculus hippocastanum tree in Forest 4

General description

This is a medium to large sized deciduous tree with a domed crown of stout branches. Its bark is grey and develops irregular scaly, rough ridges. The leaves are compound with dark green leaflets. The distinctive flowers are in clusters and are usually white with a small red spot, held in erect clusters up to 30 cm high. Each cluster produces 1-5 fruit which contain the large, glossy, brown seed known as conkers. Height 25m. Spread 15m.

Natural distributionand habitat

The Horse chestnut is thought to be native to a small area in the mountains of the Balkans in southeastern Europe. It grows in moist but well drained stony soils at altitudes of about 400-1300m.

Conservation status

The species it is not internationally classified as threatened, but it is recognised that some natural populations are threatened. Because of this it is a protected species in Bulgaria. A leaf miner that is a destructive primary pest of horse chestnut, has spread in recent years over Europe and attention is now being given to the tree's natural gene pool.

Uses

The seeds are toxic to humans and horses. It has a long history of medicinal use including for haemorrhoids and varicose veins. In Britain and Ireland, the nuts are used for the popular children's game conkers. The seeds have been used for whitening hemp, flax, silk and wool. The flower is the symbol of the city of Kiev, capital of Ukraine.

Planting pattern

A series of arcs that approximate the contour lines of the landscape.

Further reading

Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins.