The ‘spreading chestnut tree’, a common sight on village greens and alongside housing developments, is not actually native to Britain. It arrived in the sixteenth century and was grown, initially, as a specimen tree in collections such as that of the plant collector John Tradescant. Only later did it begin the process of naturalisation, probably as a result of extensive planting by landscape designers like ‘Capability’ Brown and Sir Christopher Wren, who planted a mile-long avenue of them at Bushy Park near Hampton Court.
Horse chestnut is one of the easiest British trees to identify and its leaves are often the earliest to appear. They are preceded by the famous ‘sticky buds’, and soon open to form the familiar five to seven-fingered leaflets on a stiff green stem. The tree produces an abundant show of upright white flower spikes that are arranged round the canopy like candles. The bark is well fissured, especially on older trees where it fractures into plates whose ends gradually curl away from the trunk. The most familiar product of the tree is its conkers, contained in a spiky green husk and often produced in abundance. These have become the centre-piece of one of the most enduring childhood games. There may be two or three conkers, with flat sides arranged together, or one large single conker in the husk.
- Spread of canopy: up to 6.4 metres
- Height: up to 38 metres