Thick, heavy branches curl upwards like fingers, grasping these March skies. Buds containing five-part, hand-like leaves bulge bigger by the day. Horse Chestnuts are one of the first trees to fully leaf out in thick green canopies. Not long after, they outdo themselves with the big gorgeous bouquets of white flowers that have lead to them being planted on streets around the world.
Native to a small section of the Balkans in Southern Europe, its large pointy fruits are a traditional herbal remedy against aggressive dogs, but aren’t good for much else. The nuts are poisonous and inedible, and local animals don’t seem to like them either. Have you ever seen a creature eating one? The combination of in-edibility and vigorous seeds means that, left unchecked, the ground beneath these misplaced nut trees will soon be thick with seedlings.
For a long time, growing trees that made sense on the streets of Greece or Italy was popular here. Lately though, city planners have been moving towards planting native tree species (remember the Tulip Tree?). Beyond the shade and nesting sites that any tree provides, Horse Chestnuts don’t offer much to the urban habitat. They also rarely spread outside of lawns and parks, since squirrels have little incentive to carry their seeds.
Horse Chestnuts are not really a chestnut at all, but are a relative of the rare-but-native Ohio Buckeye. Because they don’t have nearly as showy a flower, there aren’t as many Buckeyes planted as there are Horse Chestnuts. A Buckeye’s nuts are poison to humans too, although squirrels and groundhogs love them.
Horse Chestnuts often win the prize for most magnificent tree on the street. Although rightfully a bit confused about living here, they are a special treat in the late spring.