Horse Chestnut – Aesculus hippocastanum
In 1920 twelve trees were planted in Bayne Park as a memorial to the 11 soldiers and 1 nurse from Bellevue who served and died during WWI. In 1921 three more trees were planted and plaques were attached to all 15 trees to commemorate the fallen heros of Bellevue. Although the record does not define the type of tree planted, it is likely the original 12 trees were Horse Chestnut trees that line both sides of the walkway through the park.
The common name for this tree may have come from the historic use of its seeds to treat horses for overexertion, colic, and coughs in Turkey and Greece. In addition, the scar remaining on the twig when the leaves fall resembles the shape of a horseshoe complete with nail holes.
The buds of the Horse Chestnut are renowned for being sticky. The stickiness helps hold the huge bud together and provides water resistance. Once the sun warms and the bud opens you can see the leaves and the structure of the distinctive flower that were once held within the bud.
Known for providing shade and being ornamental, the flowers of the Horse Chestnut grow in tall spikes (or panicles) during the spring creating a showy candelabra display of delicate pink and white flowers. The flowers stand upright similar to candles on a Christmas tree.
Blossoms emerge white with yellow in the center, but the blossom center turns from yellow to pink once it is pollinated. The white flower below has a pink center indicating like a stoplight to insects that it has been pollinated.
The leaves are palmately compound, in the drawing below you are seeing one leaf comprised of 7 leaflets. Palmate is defined as having several lobes (typically 5 or 7) whose midribs all radiate from one point. By thinking of the palm of your hand with fingers spread out wide, you can remember the general form of a palmate leaf.
Hard spiny fruit the size of golfballs fall to the ground, and they split in October to release the shiny brown seeds known as conkers overseas. They are used in a popular game where a conker is threaded onto a strong leather cord and then each contestant attempts to break their opponent’s conker by hitting it with their own. There is even a World Conker Championship in the United Kingdom within the picturesque county of Northamptonshire, in the village of Southwick.
Horse Chestnuts are poisonous to humans, do not eat them!
It you find yourself inspired by the beauty of the Horse Chestnut tree, you can admire it from within your own home by decorating with wallpaper featuring the unique flower panicles and compound palmate leaves!
I recommend the powerful picture book The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window written by Jeff Gottesfeld and illustrated by Peter McCarty. Told from the perspective of the Horse Chestnut tree outside Anne Frank’s window, this book introduces her story in a gentle way to a young audience. The tree died the summer Anne Frank would have turned eighty-one, but its seeds and saplings have been planted around the world as a symbol of peace.
Thank you for joining us and virtually meeting our Horse Chestnut trees at Bayne Park today. Although Bayne Park is currently closed, we hope this virtual experience helps you to feel connected to the trees! We encourage you to visit the trees in person once Bayne Park reopens.
As we intend for this to become a weekly series, check back for a new post next Treesday Tuesday!