Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Horse Chestnut Blossoms First Flower in Spring

The horse chestnut tree, which originated in the Balkans, was introduced to Britain in the 1600's as an ornamental tree. It grows so successfully here that it is hard to believe it is not native to the U.K. It allowed to grow freely it forms a magnificent tree and it is not surprising that it is widely planted in parks, large gardens, churchyards and village greens.

The horse chestnut is one of the first trees in leaf, and looks its best in springtime, when it is covered with clusters of either pink or white flowers, known as 'candles'. These flowers are normally pollinated by the early flying bumble bees. The leaves are made up of 5 to 7 leaflets. Interestingly, once a flower has been pollinated, its color changes from yellow to red as a warning to visiting bees not to bother with it.

The glossy fruits from horse chestnut, well known to children as the "conker", give rise to the tree's American name of 'buckeye' on account of their resemblance to the eyes of a deer. They are formed inside a spiky, green outer shell and are eaten by deer and cattle. Legend has it that they were ground up and fed to horses by Turks as a cure for broken wind.

Large leaf and flower buds are clearly visible even during winter months but are encased in a scaly, resinous protective covering that prevents damage from frost or damp. This thick sticky coating melts with the beginning of warm weather in spring, and flowers and leaves appear with remarkable rapidity, usually within three to four weeks.

European horse chestnuts produce clusters of white flowers with a pale scarlet tinge at the throat or yellow mottling. American horse chestnut flowers can be white, pale pink, or yellow, depending upon the species. All types of horse chestnut trees, with their graceful wide limbs and showy flowers, are grown for their ornamental beauty.