Horse Chestnuts

There are conkers to be found in the park, but you have to get up early to beat the squirrels.

The photo below was taken on South Meadow Walk this August. Just a couple of days after I'd started chestnut-monitoring for the autumn ahead, a determined squirrel systematically gnawed through an entire treeful of unripe chestnuts, chucking away the lot. It happens :)

Most people will know horse chestnuts instantly by their distinctive leaves.

In spring, the new growth is lime green, darkening towards the summer. The young leaves hang like lace hankies, later spreading out into their familiar adult form.

In autumn they become deep yellow, sometimes with very distinctive brown and green markings as the autumn changes progress.

You may have noticed the flower candles in May. From a distance these just look white ...

... and if you've never looked closely you'll be startled by the beautiful colours (the yellow blotches turn to pink when they've been pollinated, as a signal to bees)

and the fluffy petals

In autumn of course come the spiky chestnut husks, containing conkers. Here's a couple in early and mid-stages of development. The squirrels, again, beat me to the contents.

My favourite horse chestnut is on South Meadow Walk. It's a fine old tree with a hula skirt of twigs and leaves. 

The road beside it is a couple of feet higher than the pathway, so if you balance on the fence, you can get high enough to look down into the lower branches. 

This is useful, because some of the park's trees are so tall and well-pruned that you need binoculars to see the life on their twigs.

There are some other magnificent old horse chestnuts ...

... and a few new plantings. 2015 was a really good year for new trees generally in the park, with over a hundred planted.

The trees also aren't so hard to recognise in winter if you can get close enough to a twig. In early February 2016, the sapling at the north end of Coronation Walk (in front of Quartermile) had rich, sticky red buds.

Although it's young, the twigs show signs of the tree's history: the paler patches you can see on the twigs below are the scarring that's left after the leaves of previous years have fallen off.

By late March, two big old horse chestnuts on Melville Drive were covered in buds opening to expose the first of their leaves and flowers. These buds are about the size of a 10p piece and sometimes grow almost to the size of a small hen's egg by the point when they start to open. Out of these unfurl the flowers and leaves

Here's a map of where to see some in the park