Indian horse chestnut

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.

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Indian horse chestnut (Aesculus indica)

Kew's Indian horse chestnut (Aesculus indica)

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

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.

8 comments on 'Indian horse chestnut'

Kew Feedback Team says

10/07/2012 2:57:46 PM | Report abuse

Hi Mike, Many thanks for your lovely comment and for keeping us updated on the progress of your Indian Horse Chestnut trees. It's great to hear they both flourished. We hope you continue to enjoy your visits to Kew Gardens and the memories that they bring back.

Mike Gunn says

07/07/2012 7:07:45 PM | Report abuse

Our daughter Deryth Gunn died in October 1994. Her brother Spencer was then the editor of the “Friends of Kew” magazine. He told us that it was possible to have a tree planted in her memory, in the gardens. The following spring we chose from the tree planting program an Indian Horse Chestnut (Aesculus indica) to be planted. This was later planted about 100 meters from the main gate on the left of the walk. In due time the tree produced conkers and I took two home, too see if I could grow them. Both produced plants which in turn grew well in pots. In time I had to transfer both saplings to my allotment where they flourished. Two years ago both trees were transplanted to Clarence Park St.Albans in her memory. The reason for choosing this park was because she loved to walk her dog “Hector” there. Thus we now have memorial trees in two locations. My wife and I still manage to get to Kew four or five time a year. Each time we visit Deryth’s tree, it reminds of the 31 years of happiness she gave to us.

Kew Feedback Team says

16/06/2011 11:56:20 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for your comment John. We've been in touch with the Kew Archives team and unfortunately our records are not comprehensive for the 1920-30s. The team looked through the volume that contains lists of plants sent out from Kew 1937-1939 and have not been able to find any reference to Hayle. Seeds and cuttings were frequently sent from Kew to people that requested them, irrespective of the war. In fact, from our indexes, we found see that Kew presented a Mexican Oak (Quercus crussifolio) to Hayle Parish Council in November 1943. Some information about the type of oak can be found here: In terms of the the Aesculus indica along the small Broad Walk, these trees were raised from seed produced by the original tree in the collection, which is where the Pavilion restaurant is now, so they were not directly from an expedition, but they would have been fairly rare trees in cultivation then.

John Bennett, Hayle Mayor says

16/06/2011 9:25:43 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for that - although disappointing that we cannot find out anything about the war-time species protection programme. Do you have any information as to the source of the trees that you planted in 1928? Were they the result of an expedition, for example?

Kew Feedback team says

15/06/2011 2:27:41 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for getting in touch John. We've done a bit of research and found out the following. The Aesculus indica trees on the small Broad Walk at Kew were planted in 1928, so the tree in your memorial garden in Hayle was probably from the same batch of seedlings that were raised at Kew, from this planting. We have no official records or other knowledge of seedlings being planted in Hayle as a protection from bomb damage, but its very likely that this happened. The seeds were probably surplus from our tree planting along the Broad Walk and then distributed.

John Bennett says

13/06/2011 10:24:49 AM | Report abuse

We have and Indian Horse Chestnut in our Memorial Gardens in Hayle which was given in the late 1930s by Kew, we understand, in order to provide a back-up location in the event of war damage. We used to have a sign, now lost, and would like to find out the real story so we can put up a new one. The original tree is now dead, but we have a grandson in good condition and a few other seedlings in pots. If you have any information on the 1930s plant dispersal, please conatct Hayle Town Council.

Joe Spry says

01/06/2011 7:52:43 AM | Report abuse

I was given some and have planted them in different locations in Cornwall. You could always donate them to A park or council to plant out.

ken says

15/07/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

I picked up some "conkers" from the Indian Horse Chestnut tree at Kew in September 2008. I now have six little trees in 12 inch pots. They have grown at differing rates, but several of them have made about 3 ft. Trouble is, my garden is too small for putting any of them in the ground. (I live in Fareham). Any ideas for them anybody?

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