Horse chestnut trees are a deciduous broadleaf tree native to the Balkan peninsula.
Scientific name: Aesculus hippocastanum Family: Hippocastanaceae
The leaf stalks of horse chestnut trees leave a scar on the twig when they fall, which resembles an inverted horse shoe with nail holes. This association with horses could explain why conkers used to be ground up and fed to horses to relieve them of coughs, and could be the origin of the tree’s name.
Mature horse chestnut trees grow to a height of around 40m, and can live for up to 300 years. The bark is smooth and pinky grey when young, which darkens and develops scaly plates with age. Twigs are hairless and stout, buds are oval, dark red, shiny and sticky.
Leaves: the palmate leaves comprise 5-7 pointed, toothed leaflets spreading from a central stem.
Flowers: appearing in May – individual flowers have 4-5 fringed petals, which are white with a pink flush at the base.
Fruits: once pollinated by insects, each flower develops into a glossy red-brown conker inside a spiky green husk, which falls in autumn.
Look out for: conkers (seeds) are surrounded by a spiky green case. Distinctive large leaves have serrated leaflets.
Horse chestnuts trees thrive in areas having full sun and well-drained, but moist, humus-rich soil. These trees do not tolerate excessively dry conditions. Holes for planting horse chestnut trees in should be about three times their width and deep enough to accommodate them with the top of the rootball flush with the soil. Established trees require little care other than occasional pruning in late winter as needed.