I’m way overdue for a tree of the month selection! This month I picked red horse chestnut, Aseculus x carnea ‘Briotti’. I actually haven’t seen this tree in bloom before and I think it’s quite exotic looking for New England. This is probably as close as we in the Northeast will be able to get to crape myrtles, the ubiquitous blossoming tree seen so often in street plantings and mall parking lots in the South.
The red horse chestnut is a hybrid of common horse chestnut A. hippocastanum and red buckeye A. pavia, cultivated for garden use. It’s a deciduous tree that grows to 30-40 feet tall upon maturity. Its pinkish or red blossoms bloom in the spring. It likes full sun or light shade and moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils.
I don’t know if Bach Flower Remedies work or not–they’re the company that make Rescue Remedy among many other “flower essences” used for various psychological ailments. One of the 38 essences is made of red horse chestnut. According to their website, it’s supposed to be good for those who “find it difficult not to be anxious for other people.”
Well, I certainly hope the flower essence is based on the flower not the nut, because the nut is supposed to be poisonous. It contains saponins, which is toxic to many animals, including humans, though to a lesser extent. Supposedly if you cut up the nut into small pieces or grind them into flour, you can leach the poison out by rinsing it several times and pouring the water out, but I won’t be the one testing out that theory.
The nuts look like a bit like a regular chestnut and are surrounded by a thick hull. They’re sometimes called conkers. It’s easy to see why–a falling one would probably conk you out. For that reason, this would probably be an ill-chosen street tree. In parts of the UK, children play a game, also called “conkers,” with the nuts–maybe they throw them at one another.
Whenever I pick a tree of the month, I try to pick one that has multiple uses. Buuuuut, I freely admit that I picked red horse chestnut just because it’s pretty!
Blossom and nut photos courtesy of Wikipedia.