The horse chestnut tree is also known as the conker tree. The conker tree has a particularly pretty palmate-shaped leaf, which is bright green. In mid to late summer they start growing some spikey cases, which have got a very bright, vivid green outside and spikes that are almost thorn-like to touch. The tree starts to create these spiky seed cases in the mid-summer months (July and August). Inside there are some very gleaming almost mahogany-colored seeds, which are called conkers.
The botanical name for the horse chestnut tree (conker tree) is Aesculus hippocastanum.
Conkers are celebrated throughout the world and people often play the conker game with them. Some years ago, we often saw children in schools playing conkers. The game of conkers is where the seed from the horse chestnut tree had a hole put through it and a string or shoelace was threaded through the middle of the conker. Then, the conkers game could be played.
Conkers are usually ready (when the seeds have matured into a size, shape and structure that can be used to play the conkers game) towards the end of summer and the beginning of the autumn season. We tend to see fewer children playing with conkers these days because the game involves hitting the opponent’s conker with your conker and there are risks involved with this, such as players hurting themselves or fragments of conker going into player’s or spectator’s eyes.
Where do Horse Chestnut Trees Grow?
Horse chestnut trees growing in several parts of the world including the UK and the US. Chestnut trees are originally native to the Balkan Peninsula. Conker trees were originally introduced to the UK we think in the 16th century. Because of the relatively recent introduction, it is unusual to find the horse chestnut tree in woodlands in the UK. Instead, you will find other species more native to the UK such as the oak tree. However, conker trees are often found in areas where they have been planted such as in parks, along the sides of lanes, bordering avenues and in people’s gardens.
How Long Does a Conker Tree Live?
Believe it or not, a horse chestnut tree can live up to 300 years, sometimes even more!
How Tall is the Horse Chestnut Tree?
Horse chestnut trees can grow up to approximately 130 feet which is about 40 meters.
Conker Tree Leaves
As previously mentioned, the leaves are a particularly interesting shape. They tend to be brighter green than a lot of other trees’ leaves. The leaves are palmate-style leaves and often comprise of between five and seven pointed tooth leaflets spreading from a central stem.
This is similar to the leaf pattern of other trees and plants such as tomato plants and even cannabis sativa (hemp). Horse chestnut trees do flower. The flowers tend to appear in the early summer months usually at the beginning of May. The flowers are very pretty but very small. They tend to be a white color sometimes with a hint of pink towards the base of the inside of the flower where the overy is. See the flower diagram below. The flowers tend to have fringed petals making them almost feather-like.
Can Conkers be Eaten?
Unlike chestnuts, horse chestnuts (conkers) are not usually eaten. This is because they tend to have a bitter flavor, and in fact, if they are consumed in large quantities, they can have a mildly poisonous effect. After conker trees were introduced, some people tried to use the conker seeds as ingredients and they were sometimes milled into a type of flour but this is a tradition that has not continued in any significant manner. In summary, do not eat a conker that you find.
Conker shells are light green capsules surrounding the conkers (seeds of the Horse Chestnut tree) whilst they grow. These are what fall off the tree and spill to reveal the shiny conker that children have historically played with in the game of conkers. Conker shells tend to be 3-5cm (1″ – 2″) in diameter, revealing conkers of about 2-4.5cm (0.8″ – 2″) in diameter. Conkers tend to be a dark mahogany-like colour and are often mesmerizingly shiny.
As with many plants and trees, the horse chestnut tree has a particularly positive impact on the environment. The flowers produce nectar and pollen for bees. The horse chestnut tree, through photosynthesis, helps to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and they also create an excellent habitat for many insects.
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