Horse-chestnut
(Aesculus hippocastanum)
Compound
Palmate

leaf

Winter twig
Winter twig

flowers

fruits
Fruits

The horse-chestnut outside King's College, Cambridge
The horse-chestnut outside King's College, Cambridge

Distribution map

Horse-chestnut is the only widely planted tree with palmate leaves. Each leaf is made up of 5-7 stalkless, toothed leaflets, 8-12 cm long, with strong veins and a long tapering base. The leaf-stalk is up to 20cm long and has a swollen base, above the point where the whole leaf falls in the autumn and leaves a scar on the twig.

ID Check

Horse-chestnut is a tall, deciduous tree which can reach 35 m in height. When it is not browsed by cattle or deer in parkland the arching branches sweep to the ground and turn up at the end. The bark is red-brown or dark grey-brown and scaly.

In winter the buds are protected by gum-covered scales - the 'sticky-buds'.

Most trees produce spikes of flowers with 4 unequal sized white petals, with spots at the base. They are first yellow then pink. Red flowered forms sometimes occur.

The large spiky fruits break up into three parts, releasing one or two shiny 'conkers'.

Facts

  • The World Conker Championships take place at Ashton near Peterborough every October. 'Conker' is a corruption of the word 'Conquerer'.

  • Conkers are eaten by deer and cattle but not necessarily by horses. The horse part of the name means they are unsuitable for human consumption.

  • The horse chestnut is a native in the Balkan Peninsula. (This peninsula is in SE Europe, bounded by the Adriatic, the Aegean and the Black Seas.)

Links

Exploring a horse-chestnut bud

Exploring horse-chestnut flowers

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