and fruit of the deciduous Horse-Chestnut tree Aesculus
Although the Horse Chestnut tree is quite common
in many parts of the U.K., it is not a native of Britain but originates from South East
Europe. It was introduced into Britain during the seventeenth century.
Mature trees are large and wide, growing to
between 25 - 35 metres tall. The bark of the trunk is dark and very rough. The tree
flowers during April-May while the leaves emerge from large sticky buds. During the
summer the seeds form which are dropped from the tree during early Autumn. The green
spiny shell of the seed (above) splits open to reveal 1, 2 or 3 large and hard shiny brown
fruits. Their size means they are too big to be dispersed by wind. Instead Horse
Chestnut seeds are dispersed from the parent tree by animals who collect them to eat
during the autumn and winter. The animals sometimes store them in locations which
are ideal for the fruit to germinate, and if overlooked the seeds may grow into a new
Horse Chestnut tree.
Unlike the similar Sweet Chestnut fruit, humans
find that Horse Chestnuts are inedible. However, Horse Chestnut fruits (usually
called 'conkers' in Britain) are very popular with children, who have 'conker fights' to
discover who has the champion hardest conker!
The conker is suspended by a piece of string and
your opponent strikes it with their own conker. The winner is the person whose conker