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Indian horse chestnut

The Indian horse chestnut from the Himalaya is a relative of the common horse chestnut and a spectacular early summer flowering tree.
Aesculus indica, Indian horse chestnut tree at Kew Gardens

About Kew's Indian horse chestnuts

This species was first brought to the UK in 1851 by Colonel Henry Bunbury who became a friend of Joseph Hooker, Kew's director from 1865. But this particular tree was planted in 1935. It seems to have been grown from a conker harvested from the Aesculus collection growing near Victoria Gate and was chosen by the Arboretum's assistant curator Sydney Pearce as a fine flowering type.

Three younger trees from wild sources were planted nearby in 1995.

Take a closer look

  • Can you spot any track-like marks on the leaves? So far this species seems resistant to the leaf mining moth (Cameraria ohridella) that started attacking our common horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) in 2002.
  • Look out for bees visiting this tree’s showy flower-spikes during its late flowering season, from May to July.
  • Conker hunting? The Indian horse chestnut’s small conkers are rather small and worth avoiding. Tell them apart from other varieties by looking for their smooth, spineless and thin seed capsule.

Tree biology

Indian horse chestnut forms a very round canopy, and can grow to about 30 m tall and spread to about 12 m wide. It is a beautiful flowering species with a large number of flower spikes from May to July. Even its large leaves are considered attractive. The flowers are hermaphrodite, having both male and female organs, and are pollinated by bees. The seeds ripen in October.

Cultivation and uses

In India, Indian horse chestnut seeds are ground into flour, steeped to get rid of the toxins, and used for flatbreads or porridges. This food use has helped spread the tree around the world.

Though native to the Himalayan region, it is popular in Europe and is also found across North America. Its plentiful flowers mean it is also a favourite in ornamental planting. Resistance to the leaf mining moth can only make it more so.

Deer and squirrels eat Indian horse chestnut seeds, but they can be poisonous to humans. The small conkers contain a substance called aesculin, which destroys red blood cells.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Aesculus indica. This species is a close, smaller relative of Aesculus hippocastanum.
  • Family: Hippocastanaceae
  • Place of origin: north-western Himalaya, from the River Indus to western Nepal
  • Conservation status: Not Evaluated
  • Date planted: c. 1935
  • Height: 24 m