Aesculus hippocastanum

3 May

Aesculus hippocastanum flower (22/04/2011, Kew Gardens-London)

Aesculus hippocastanum flower (22/04/2011, Kew Gardens-London)

Position: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Moist but well drained, thrives on alkaline

Flowering period: Late spring to early summer

Eventual Height: 25m

Eventual Spread: 20m

Hardiness: 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a

Family: Sapindaceae

Aesculus hippocastanum is deciduous tree with a rounded columnar habit. It has palmate, mid green leaves with 5 to 7 obovate leaflets. In late spring and early summer it bears upright, tall, conical panicles composed of white flowers with yellow marks which become pink as they mature. Green, softly spiky capsules containing a large seed (commonly known as the conker) follow these.

Aesculus hippocastanum (20/04/2011, Kew Gardens-London)

Aesculus hippocastanum (20/04/2011, Kew Gardens-London)

Native to the Balkan Peninsula (Greece-Albania) the Aesculus hippocastanum is commonly known as Horse chestnut or Conker tree. The seeds (or conkers) are used by children to play Conkers where the seeds are swung on string in order to crack the opponent’s seed. The seeds were also used for their chemical properties, they were used to whiten hemp and the British government during at one point used the seeds in the production of cordite.

The etymological root of the binomial name Aesculus or  Æsculus was the ancient Latin name for this species. Hippocastanum being derived from hippos in the Greek meaning a ‘horse’ and castanea in the Latin meaning the chestnut tree of Virgil.

With its impressive size and dense habit Aesculus hippocastanum is well suited as a parkland specimen. The landscape architect will find it useful when deep shade is required and its showy flowers will make a large impact over such an immense canopy. The cultivar Aesculus hippocastanum ‘Baumannii’ is particularly useful where the falling seeds would present a problem, such as a street tree, as it does not go to seed.

Aesculus hippocastanum will prefer chalky soil but will tolerate a wide pH range so long as the soil is free draining.

Ecologically, Aesculus hippocastanum will attract pollinating insects such as bees that will feed on its nectar.

The Royal Horticultural Society have given Aesculus hippocastanum their prestigious Award of Garden Merit.

Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner Damage (10/07/2011, London)

Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner Damage (10/07/2011, London)

Aesculus hippocastanum requires little care, dead or damaged material should be removed at the end of winter. Recent years have seen a marked rise in the number of Aesculus trees being infected by the Horse Chestnut Leaf Minor. Whilst not killing the tree this pest does reduce its vigor. The most practical method of control of this pest is to remove fallen leaves in autumn and then to burn them.


One Response to “Aesculus hippocastanum”

  1. Zea6 13/05/2013 at 04:03 #

    This is such an informative post. I just moved into a house that has this tree right outside of it in late November. During the winter, it looked like a normal tree like a Norway Maple or something, but now that it has fully blossomed, I’ve realized that it was one that I don’t think I’ve ever seen this closely (with the white flowers, narrow-ish leaves and all).

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