Horse Chestnut

WELCOME! If you have a strong passion for learning about incredibly interesting organisms you have come to the right place. This website is dedicated to the Horse Chestnut tree, or Aesculus hippocastanm.  The prefix hippo- appropriately translates from the Greek to mean "horse."  The reason this tree is named after the horse is a topic of debate, but a common explanation is shown in the cover photo above.  The leaf scar on the Horse Chestnut tree very closely resembles a horseshoe.  The end of the species name, -castanum , is a reference to its close resemblance to true chestnut trees, members of the genus Castanea.  Despite its mistaken identity as a chestnut tree, it strictly does belong with the other members of the Aesculus genus.  See Classification for more information on the Aesculus genus.

The horse chestnut originated from the Balkan peninsula, but has since  spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere and has proven to become quite important in these new environments.  These trees provide a unique habitat/host for other organisms, health remedies, lumber, beautiful ornamentation along streets and in parks, and even "conkers" for enjoyment. However, the horse chestnut tree can be lethal.  Throughout the tree, but especially in the seeds, there is a toxin called aesculin that can cause vomiting, nausea, enlarged pupils, paralysis, diarrhea, muscle weakness and twitching, kidney problems, coma, and even fatality if enough is ingested.  For more on this toxin see Health & Horse Chestnuts.

The horse chestnut has also occasionally received fame.  It was, in fact, a horse chestnut tree which provided shelter for Anne Frank as she hid from the Nazi regime all those years ago.  Throughout her diary she often marveled at the majestic tree which is now reaching its end.  However, it has become such an important beacon of hope and purity that saplings from this 150 year old tree are being planted at Little Rock Central High, a sight of painful forced school integration in 1957.  See Interactions for more information on Anne Frank's horse chestnut tree. 

These are absolutely awe-inspiring and beautiful trees.  They usually reach to about12 meters (approx. 40 feet) in height and about 8 meters (approx. 26 feet) wide.  In May the horse chestnut produces clusters of white flowers with yellow and red spots and in late August/early September the trees drop their ripened fruits.  These fruits are 1-3 inch spiny spheres containing one to three hard brown seeds, each with a pale scar.  It would seem that these characteristics would make the Aesculus hippocastanum easy to identify, but it is often confused with other members of the Aesculus genus and the American chestnut tree.  The spiky fruit is common throughout this group and only minute differences are distinguishable from the exterior or the fruit.  Pictured on the left is a number of seeds from different trees that are commonly confused with the horse chestnut tree.  For more on the reproduction of the horse chestnut see Reproduction.


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