Horse Chestnuts: White v Red

White horse chestnut leaves
Red Horse chestnut leaves

In the comments on my post about European (White) horse-chestnut trees and Red horse-chestnut trees, Deb Weyrich-Cody helpfully posted a link to the Morton Arboretum in Illinois.

It explains that the Red horse-chestnut is a cross between the European (White) horse-chestnut and a red buckeye.

And it says the Red horse-chestnut is non-native. Is that a reference to the buckeye or to the European (White) horse-chestnut?

Well the Morton Arboretum says that red buckeyes are native to the southern United States, up into the southern tip of Illinois.

So that makes sense and ties up nicely with the information that European (White) horse-chestnuts originally comes from the Caucasus in south-Eastern Europe.

According to the Morton Arboretum, red buckeyes grow to 15-25 feet, and that perhaps explains why Red horse-chestnuts are smaller than the white, at least in all the ones I have seen.

Another Look At The Trees

One thing I have learned is that it is easy to look and hard to see. But armed with that bit of tree architecture I went out to look at the trees again.

Now I see what I had seen before but brushed under the carpet of my brain – that the leaves on the red and the white are not the same. You can see that in the photos above.

Of Chestnuts and Conkers

Another thing I know from last year is that unlike the familiar spherical shape of the conker on the White horse chestnut, the Red is more oval in shape – a bit ‘walnut’ in shape.

Let’s see what the Latin names say;

European (White) horse-chestnut: Aesculus hippocastanum
Red buckeye: Aesculus pavia
Red horse-chestnut: Aesculus carnea

The name “hippocastanum” means, literally, “horse chestnut” from the use of the seed to treat coughs and broken wind in horses and to distinguish it from the chestnuts that people eat (Spanish chestnuts).

Here are the young conkers forming on a European (White) horse-chestnut.

Conkers In The Making

When I can, I will go searching for the conkers of the Red. Although, it is a question as to whether they can properly be called conkers at all. Nuts, yes. But conkers?

Would any self-respecting conqueror / conker-er use a nut from a Red to battle his or her opponent?


  1. Lol, hopefully both of your gladiatorial Conk-erors would be armed with equal weaponry? Thanks to your wonderfully illustrative photo (with both sides) of A Hippocastanum, it’s easy to see why Horse Chestnut leaf makes such a lovely impression in the potter’s clay, and truly one of my favourites; while the Buckeye-hybrid – with its somewhat rippled texture – would be rather a pain to use and nowhere near as clean a pattern:/


    1. Soaking conkers in vinegar or baking in the oven are considered marginal in the world of fair dealings. We used to share stories and listen in awe at the stories of the inside secrets.

      You are a potter, (probably among other things I would guess that you do) ? Tell more 🙂


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