Horse Chestnut Trees – All the Facts That You Need to Know

We may think the horse chestnut tree is part of the chestnut tree Family, but it isn't at all, it is their own genus. Overall, there are 13 to 19 species within the genus.

They are native to the Northern Hemispheres and only grow in the temperate regions. Notably, we split the species between both deciduous and evergreen trees. They produce beautiful flowers that grow along a stem in an array of colors.

While all parts of the nut (or horse chestnut) are edible, it is mildly toxic. In fact, excessive consumption is enough to kill. However, many cultures still consume and use horse chestnuts in moderation.

In some local areas, the horse chestnut is referred to as the buckeye. That being said, the buckeyes growing in the United States are sweet and edible. Many know Ohio as the “Buckeye State” and Kyiv used the leaves of the horse chestnut tree on its official coat of arms for three decades.

Horse chestnuts grow at a moderate rate. Finally, they are easy to grow if you meet the necessary conditions. Moisture is key! You will also need to protect your seeds from any pesky critters that want a snack.

So How Many Kinds of Horse Chestnut Trees Are There?

There are between 13 and 19 species in the Aesculus genus. Also, all the shrubs and trees produce flowers. The North American continent claims seven of the species, while Europe and Asia claim the remaining six to twelve species. The Aesculus genus is part of the Sapindaceae family.

The species you will find growing in North America are:

  • California buckeye (Aesculus californica)
  • Yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava)
  • Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra)
  • Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)
  • Parry’s buckeye (Aesculus parryi)
  • Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)
  • Painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica)

While the species you will find growing in North America and Europe are:

  • Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

Finally, the species you will find growing in Asia are:

  • Aesculus assamica
  • Indian horse chestnut (Aesculus indica)
  • Chinese horse chestnut (Aesculus chinesis)
  • Japanese horse chestnut (Aesculus turbinata)
  • Horse chestnut (Aesculus wangii)

How Large Do Horse Chestnut Trees Grow?

The horse chestnut tree grows to medium height, reaching between 50 to 75 feet. Additionally, the canopy and branches grow to a spread of 40 to 70 feet. It grows at an average rate between one and two feet a year.

The flowers grow along a stem that easily reaches six inches in length and sometimes will be one foot long.

What Does a Horse Chestnut Tree Look Like?

A horse chestnut tree is medium in size with a gorgeous, full canopy of leaves. All in all, the leaves grow with a toothed-edge and are dark green.

The flowers first appear in the middle of spring in colors from white to red. Generally speaking, they grow along a stem in clusters with five petals each. With their five petals, the flowers look like little stars growing amongst the leaves.

The seed of the horse chestnut tree goes by many names. Dependent on the region you are in, you may hear them referred as buckeyes, horse chestnuts or Conkers.

conker - horse chestnut seed

Although they go by a variety of names, they do not differ in appearance. The seed itself is a large, glossy ball in red or brown. Additionally, the seed is protected by a thick, green husk. The husk even grows a spikey exterior.

The bark is dark gray with deep fissures with deep cracks. Overall, it takes on a patched looked like scales. The main branches grow thick and strong to support the vast canopy.

Where Can I Find a Horse Chestnut Tree?

The Aesculus genus grows across the Northern Hemisphere. Altogether, you will find horse chestnut trees growing in the mild regions of North America. The horse chestnut grows from the southern portions of the United States, across the prairies, and up to the snowy north. Even western Canada supports some horse chestnut varieties. The horse chestnuts also stretch from east to west across the United States.

In Europe, the horse chestnut is native to the southern portions stretching slightly north. However, many centuries ago, we spread the tree far and wide, the horse chestnut now grows across most of the continent. You will find many growing in the United Kingdom which is where the name “Conker” came from for the seeds. It is from a game where you smash the seed of the other player.

Additionally in Asia, the horse chestnut is localized near Japan, China, and Vietnam. Some species are native to the country of India.

How Long Can a Horse Chestnut Tree Live?

Many fungal diseases destroy the population of the horse chestnut tree. If you can protect your horse chestnut from any health conditions, your tree will live over 300 years. Although, there are some in England currently estimated at 400 years old.

Can I Grow a Horse Chestnut Tree?

Growing a horse chestnut is easy if you consider a few key items. Your tree will need full sun and moist soil. However, the soil cannot be water-logged. Horse chestnuts grow expansive roots, so it is best to plant them away from your home.

Starting them from seeds is possible, but that is not the usual method for most. You can purchase a horse chestnut sapling from any nursery in a pot. Once established on the ground, you will want to water it through the first growing season.

If you decide to start your tree from a seed, you will want to plant them quickly after they fall in autumn. Dry seeds will not take. Plant them in a pot and nurture them through the winter. Afterwards, you will plant them in the spring.

The tree will not reach full maturity to produce seeds for 12 years. With good planning and a little diligence, you will grow a beautiful addition to your backyard or garden.

It is Time to BRANCH out into some fun tree facts.

  • The horse chestnut or buckeye is the state tree of Ohio.
  • Anne Frank mentions a horse chestnut in her diary.
  • The oldest horse chestnut tree is estimated between 2000 and 400 years old.

What are Some Uses for Horse Chestnut Trees?

Natural Uses

Like so many trees, many herbalists use portions of the horse chestnut tree to heal many ailments. The leaves are easily boiled into a tea to treat coughs, inflammation and pain, especially from arthritis. Ground up seeds produce a cream that when spread across the skin helps with skin wounds.

The horse chestnut is toxic and non-edible. Even though many cultures consumed them for centuries. The seed will thin your blood, which is sometimes helpful for water retention in small quantities.

Modern naturalists produce a horse chestnut extract that gives you many of the health benefits above without the risk of poisoning.

Numerous animals from deer to squirrels enjoy the seeds from these trees. However, they are very toxic for horses and should be avoided at all costs.

Artistic Uses

Both Ukraine and the state of Ohio honor the horse chestnut in official ways. For many years, the Ukraine added horse chestnut leaves to their coat of arms. Also, the horse chestnut (or buckeye) is the official tree of Ohio. The state is often referred to as the "Buckeye State” thanks to one particular presidential campaign in the 1800s.

Likely the most famous mention of a horse chestnut in literature is in the diary of Anne Frank. She mentions viewing the tree from the window in the park across the street. The tree gave her great peace during her captivity.

However, a bad storm knocked the tree over many years ago. Many shoots sprouted from the ruins and now reside in different museums around the world.

Residential/Commercial Uses

Horse chestnut trees make lovely additions for ornamental purposes. However, the qualities that make the tree beautiful and produce such large fruit also makes it a poor choice for woodworking. The wood is not rot or water resistant.

The wood is fine-grained and light in color. Overall, the most common applications for the wood of the horse chestnut are as plywood, cabinets, carving, and turning. Horse chestnut wood is best used for bowls to store fruit. In fact, the fruit will keep longer because the wood absorbs moisture.

Wrap Up

The horse chestnut tree in all forms will make a gorgeous addition to any backyard or garden. While there are only a few species, the entire genus grows widespread across the Northern Hemisphere. It prefers full sun and moist soil. Some species produce fruits that are edible and enjoyable, and others produce a fruit that is inedible and even toxic. You will benefit greatly from knowing the difference between the two types.

We do not use the wood for many residential applications because of its low durability. All in all, your tree will grow at a medium rate to a height of 50 to 75 feet. It will reach full maturity around 12 years of age and last for over 300 years.

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