Thursday, May 12, 2011

(Ain't) Red Horse Chestnut

Consider this blog both a warning to the unwary enthusiastic gardener who is gullible enough to believe everything written about a plant, and as a plea to someone knowledgeable to please confirm that I at least got what I purchased(?).

Early in the last decade, I began to covet the pictures and descriptions of the Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus carnea 'Briottii'), and decided that I must have one for my very own. I was probably mis-led by Wayside Garden's usual flowery description and embellished photography, but I was sure that this was a perfect tree for my landscape. If memory serves, I failed once with a bare-root specimen planted in Spring, but I was able to obtain a specimen planted at Thanksgiving in 2004 that has survived despite numerous prunings by roaming deer, who seem to love the early spring leaves as they unfold. These days, I keep it surrounded by wire in the early spring, as you can see in the picture below right, to deter the deer.

'Briotii' is the best known cultivar of the Red Horse Chestnut, also known as the "Ruby Red Horse Chestnut", and at maturity, it is supposed to make a rounded tree of 25-35 feet tall and in diameter. It is also supposed to be resistant to drought, heat and wind once established, and that, at least, seems to be true. However, the spring flowers are variously described as "rose-red" or "ruby-red", or "deep red" depending on where you read about them, but if they are really supposed to be red, then I've got a mislabeled cultivar. As you can see from the picture at the upper left, I think it would be generous to call these blooms pink. I might even argue that they are really a blush cream with pink overtones. I will admit that last year's pictures look a little more pink than this year's, so there may be some environmental effect on the bloom color. I suppose I should be satisfied with the pretty flowering of the plant, but I can't get past that I purchased it from a nursery with pictures showing a dark red bloom.

So, do I, or do I not, have the 'Briotti' that I intended to purchase? It certainly is not the Common Horse Chestnut which is undoubtedly more creamy yellow in bloom. And it seems to be similar to the 'Briotti' that I once saw in the Denver Botanical Gardens. I must learn to be satisfied with the "devil I have" rather than what I dreamed of. I just wanted to warn the rest of you not to expect more than you're getting.

For the sake of a good education, it's a horse chestnut if it is a Eurasian species, but North American species are "buckeyes". Since I grew up with native Buckeye trees in Indiana and had to deal with the pompous Buckeye's of Ohio State, I'm a little more comfortable with that term than with horse chestnut. I'm still not entirely sure, in fact, whether it should be "Horse Chestnut" or "Horsechestnut." I've also learned that British children play a game called "conkers" with horse chestnuts where the horse chestnut is on a string (a conker) and players take turns trying to break each other's conker by swinging at it. It's unethical, by the way, to harden your conker by baking it in vinegar or otherwise altering it. Alas, the game evidently cannot be played with buckeyes.  I was not taught it growing up in Indiana and Hoosiers can't play games with onomatopoeic names anyway. Too bad, because I missed out on competing in the World Conker championship (yes, there is one, and Ray Kellock and Wendy Bradford were the 2010 Men's and Women's champions). Never fear, fellow Hoosiers, the game is presently dying off because of growing Nannystate worries that children may be injured from conker shards during the game and because of concerns for participating nut-allergy sufferers.

What is the world coming to when protective equipment is required for a simple game of conkers?


  1. Kinda nutty..conkers that is.

  2. I have both the 'Briottii' and the 'Fort McNair' hybrids, and yours looks more like the latter, but I am no expert.


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