Trees And Shrubs

Horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum

Hippocastanaceae

The horse-chestnut is one of the most attractive of trees when in flower. It is a native of western Asia and south-eastern Europe, where it occurs in broad-leaved forests in the mountains at elevations of 700 to 1200 metres. It was introduced into other parts of Europe as early as 1576, and was widely planted in parks and avenues, as well as in game preserves as food for forest animals. The horse-chestnut grows to a height of 25 metres and develops a dense, broadly ovoid crown. The trunk is often twisted, always in the right-hand direction, and the bark peels in thin plates. In winter, it is easily distinguished by robust twigs, large, sticky, red-brown opposite buds and horseshoe-shaped leaf scars. The palmately compound leaves appear in early spring and the white flowers, spotted yellow and red, appear in May, making the horse-chestnut look like a lighted Christmas tree. In autumn, the flowers are succeeded by leathery, thorny fruits about 5 centimetres long, which split to release one to two polished reddish-brown seeds or “conkers”. These are often gathered by children and in the forests are a favourite food of red and roc deer.

The horse-chestnut thrives best in rich, moist soil, but is tolerant of poor light and pollution. In severe winters it can be slightly damaged by frost. The wood is not considered of much value.

Leaves: Large, palmately compound, consisting of 5—7 obovate leaflets.

Flowers: White, in upright panicles. Fruit: Spiny capsule with 1—2 reddish-brown seeds up to 3.5 cm long.

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