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UK Nature > Trees > Horse Chestnut
Scientific Name: Aesculus hippocastanum
Common Name: Horse Chestnut
Aesculus hippocastanum, or the Horse Chestnut, was introduced to Britain in the 1600s and has naturalised in the UK. It is rarely found in woodland, but is a common sight in parks and gardens and along roads. Mature trees grow to a height of around 28m, and can live for up to 300 years. The bark is smooth and pinky grey when young, which darkens and develops scaly plates with age. Twigs are hairless and stout, buds are oval, dark red, shiny and sticky.
The palmate leaves comprise five to seven pointed, toothed leaflets spreading from a central stem. Horse Chestnut trees are hermaphrodite, meaning that male and female reproductive parts are contained within each flower. Large spikes appear in May - individual flowers have four to five fringed petals, which are white with a pink flush at the base. Once pollinated by insects, each flower develops into a glossy red-brown conker inside a spiky green husk, which falls in autumn.
The leaf stalks leave a scar on the twig when they fall, which resembles an inverted horse shoe with nail holes. This association with horses could explain why conkers used to be ground up and fed to horses to relieve them of coughs, and could be the origin of the tree's name.
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