Horse Chestnut: The Overlooked Spring Bloom that should take Centre Stage!

Confession time: I didn't know what a Horse Chestnut was until I had one in my backyard.  The first house I purchased was a small urban lot and I moved in that summer.  There were a couple of shrubs in my front yard and one mid-sized tree that had unique leaves plus a large Maple in my backyard.  So it wasn't until next spring that I looked in my backyard and thought:

What is that amazing tropical bloom that has just appear in my yard?

It's incredible to see a floral bloom so colourful and large in a country that is well known for its snow.  Snow that covers our land for at least four months.  You would think that nothing that big and beautiful would be able to bloom in the short season we have up here.  But I've been surprised with some of our various native flowers over the years and here was a native tree that seemed to want to hold a LUAU!

While the only native species of this tree is VERY rare in Canada, it is not uncommon to see Horse Chestnuts (or Buckeyes) in various Canadian urban centres.  It's a great mid-sized tree that offers some eye-catching details, so how is this tree overlooked?  There are Lilac Collection tours to various arboretums and Cherry Blossom Festivals and everyone talks about Magnolia blooms but I just don't hear much talk about Horse Chestnuts here in Canada.  Why are there not more people raving about the beauty of Horse Chestnut blooms?  Why is there no Horse Chestnut festival here in the province?

Maybe it's because it has no heady scent?  Perhaps it's the misleading name or maybe it IS because they are rather rare and prefer milder zones.  Or it could be that if you don't catch their 1 - 2 week bloom, they don't stand out that much and they just become part of the green backdrop.  (Except perhaps when the Horse Chestnut's round nuts (also called conkers) drop!)  For whatever reason - this tree seems to continually be overlooked which I think needs to change!

Here are some great facts about this tree:
  • The only Horse Chestnut species (Aesculus) that is native to Canada is the Aesculus Glabra: the Ohio Buckeye which has only been documented to grow wild in Canada on Wapole Island.  That's rare!  (Ontario Trees)
  • Preferred habitats include moist to mesic deciduous woodlands, wooded valleys along rivers and rocky wooded slopes in sheltered areas.  At optimal sites larger Ohio Buckeye trees have been found exceeding 21.3 metres (70 feet). (Illinois Wildflowers)
  • This is a tree that prefers temperate climates and there are four types found in North America - including a shrub variety. (Encyclopedia)  
  • Their blooms can be 10 to 30 centimeters tall, with colours including whites, yellows (the colour of the Ohio Buckeye flowers), oranges, pinks and scarlet. (Kentucky Dept of Horticulture
  • The blooms are pollinated by Hummingbirds and long-tongues bees (such as Bumblebees, Mason Bees and Anthrophorine Bees) and the tree provides nutrients for various insects including Lace Bugs, Beetles and Aphids and squirrels which sometimes feed on the sweet pith of the twigs. (Illinois Wildflowers)

Have you noticed this tree while walking around town?  

What do you think - is it worthy of some extra notice?

For those in Ottawa there is a wonderful collection of Horse Chestnuts in the Dominion Arboretum!

You can see where there location is in this map: Nut Trees of the Dominion Arboretum (Ottawa).  (They are marked in yellow on the map.)  These trees bloom in late May so if you have a chance one evening this week or on the weekend, I recommend visiting them to enjoy their beauty!  I find them truly impressive and it is definitely worth a trip to see the various species at the Arboretum.

You May Also Like:

Crabapples: The Flowering Tree Everyone Loves to Hate (Not!)  (May 2017)

Spring Blooms in London (Ontario) - A Walk Along the Thames River (April 2017)

The World Within One Tree - Weekly Dose of Wild (September 2015)

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