Horse Chestnut trees are better known as Conker trees and we have a fair few across Exeter. There is a small one at the bottom of Frog street and a large on on the Cathedral green. They are a non-native species but are well known to most people across the UK. The flowers are very striking and the conkers are often collected by kids to play with.
Older horse chestnut trees can grow to a height of around 40 metres 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. The twigs are hairless and stout, the buds are oval, dark red, shiny and sticky. The buds are some of the biggest you'll ever come across - making them a great species to start with for study.
The palmate leaves comprise of 5-7 pointed, toothed leaflets spreading from a central stem. The area of the 5-7 leaves can get as big a large dinner plate and offer great shade. During the late summer / early autumn the leaves are often affected by a insects called 'Leaf Miners'. These insects are the caterpillars of leaf mining moths and they leave curly brown tunnels within the leaves.
During April the flowers are getting larger and usually bloom in May
The showy flowers are now in bloom - these were a little earlier than expected
The flowers usually appear in May. Individual flowers have 4-5 fringed petals, which are white with a pink flush at the base. They are pollinated by insects and provide a lot of food for them. The flowers are hermaphrodite which means both the male and female parts are contained with the same flower.
Once pollinated by insects, each flower develops into a glossy red-brown conker inside a spiky green husk, which falls in autumn. The conkers (seeds) are surrounded by a spiky green /brown case. The distinctive large leaves have serrated leaflets and the twigs have large sticky red buds. They are fairly easy to identify all year around. Unlike the fruit of Sweet Chestnut which is edible, Horse Chestnut are not. So to avoid confusion - Conkers are the fruit of the Horse Chestnut and are poisonous.
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
- Horse chestnut is a deciduous broadleaf tree native to the Balkan peninsula
- The leaf stalks leave a scar on the twig when they fall, which resembles an inverted horse shoe with nail holes
- The 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 40 metres and can live for up to 300 years
- The palmate leaves comprise 5-7 pointed, toothed leaflets spreading from a central stem
- In May - individual flowers have 4-5 fringed petals, which are white with a pink flush at the base
- The flowers are hermaphrodite and are pollinated by insects
- Each flower develops into a glossy red-brown conker inside a spiky green husk, which falls in autumn
- In winter the twigs have large sticky red buds
- It is rarely found in woodland, but is a common site in parks, gardens, streets and village greens
- Horse chestnut was first introduced from Turkey in the late 16th century and widely planted in the UK
- The first record of the game is from the Isle of Wight in 1848
- The flowers provide a rich source of nectar and pollen to insects, particularly bees
- Caterpillars of the triangle moth feed on its leaves, as well as the horse chestnut leaf miner moth
- Deer and other mammals eat the conkers
- The conkers have been used to include horse medicines, as additives in shampoos and as a starch substitute
- Chemicals extracted from conkers can be used to treat strains and bruises
- Conkers are actually mildly poisonous and contain a chemical known as aescin, which can induce vomiting and even paralysis
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