32. Horse Chestnut

(Aesculus hippocastanum)

Other Common Name: Conker tree

Family: Hippocastanaceae

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Horse Chestnut trees line Skagit Lane, forming a shady colonnade. Native to Greece and Albania, this species was introduced to the United States in the 1740s because it has the showiest floral display of all large shade trees, with foot-long (0.3 meter-long) clusters of white flowers in late April or early May. Unlike the true Chestnut tree the nuts produced by this species, known as conkers, are inedible. Squirrels gather many, and plant those that they don't eat causing many wild horse chestnut seedlings in this area. The leaves turn to gold or pale brown in autumn, revealing large sticky buds which will burst with a flourish early next spring.

The name "Horse Chestnut" was probably given originally because the fruits were used by the Turks as a drug for horses suffering from broken wind or coughs. The seeds were used in France and Switzerland for whitening hemp, flax, silk, and wool and can also dye fabrics a sky-blue color. The conkers placed in the corners of a room are rumored to keep spiders away. The flowers contain quercetin, a dye and an antihistamine. The wood is soft, light, and not durable.

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