Meet the Trees: Horse Chestnut
Aesculus hippocastanum, the horse chestnut, is a large deciduous tree native to the Balkans Peninsula. These trees, when mature, can grow to be between 50 and 75 feet and can live for up to 300 years. They have been planted in Madison Square Park since its initial design and can now be found on the Oval Lawn. In the late 1800s, horse chestnuts were a prominent European street tree that reminded immigrants of their homes.
Horse chestnuts have very identifiable leaves, with five smaller leaflets joining together at a single point reminiscent of a palm (a term botanists call “palmate” foliage). They should be planted as an understory tree as they develop leaf scorch in exposed conditions.
During the mid-spring months, flowers typically appear bearing large panicles of white flowers with red or yellow markings—the blooms provide a rich source of nectar and pollen for insects, particularly bees. After pollination, the flowers give way to green, circular pods covered with spines. The pods fall to the ground when they mature and split to release the dark brown and tan horse chestnut.
Though they share a name, horse chestnuts and chestnuts are not closely related. They are also not edible unlike species of chestnut in the genus Castanea.