When the kids extract those beautiful shiney nuts from their prickly shells.
But horse chestnut trees are actually amazing for kids to observe all year round.
They’re the big show offs of the tree world.
And have always got a clever trick up their sleeve.
Or should that be branch 😉
We’ve got loads of horse chestnut trees in our local London park.
If you’ve got some near you, here’s what to look out for at different times of the year.
1. Horse Chestnut Bud
The horse chestnut trees are one of the first trees in bud in winter.
And boy, their buds are big!
PLUS they’re sticky.
Give them a feel and you’ll get gluey resin on your hands.
They need to be sticky because they are so big.
Look up closer and you’ll see the gluey stuff seems to be holding separate plates together.
The plates and glue let the bud grow without popping open.
2. Opening Horse Chestnut Buds
As the sun shines and the air warms in early spring, the gluey stuff melts and the plates fall back.
And when the buds start opening, you realise why they needed to be so big.
Inside the bud are both the already large leaves and the structure of the distinctive flower.
That clever sticky stuff on the bud not only gave these space to grow but also provided a water proof coating against the rain. How clever is that?
3. Horse Chestnut Blossom
But you know what?
The horse chestnut tree gets cleverer still.
When the blossom emerges – in April in London – from the individual buds on the flower structure, it’s white but yellow in the middle.
And as you know, horse chestnut trees are big fellas.
So there’s an awful lot of blossom the tree wants pollinated.
To help that happen, the horse chestnut blossom centre turns from yellow to pink once pollinated, so the bees and all their friends don’t waste time on already pollinated flowers!
Pretty smart huh?
4. Horse Chestnut Pollination
Now, May is the traditional time for horse chestnut festivals in the UK.
This is when the blossom is at it’s most magnificent.
Big flowering candles all over the tree.
But if you look closely, you’ll see the bees have already done their work.
And there are oh so delicate, little conkers growing in the blossom.
5. Horse Chestnut Prickles
As soon as those tiny nuts start growing the horse chestnut tree puts up its defences.
And does everything it can to protect them from the weather and predators.
The horse chestnut at this stage is white and creamy and soft inside.
And very yummy for squirrels!
But nothing will grow from it.
So the horse chestnut tree keeps the nut safe until it is ready behind those seriously spikey spikes and a tough as tough skin that even the most persistent squirrel can’t get through.
And that shell I promise you, really is tough.
I’ve broken many a nail trying unsuccessfully to open them for an impatient small child.
6. Ripe Horse Chestnuts
Those super smart defences let the horse chestnut develop safely on the tree for over three months.
The tree’s enormous green leaves converting the sun’s energy into fuel for that growth.
By autumn, the horse chestnuts are fully grown.
And are finally, their distinctive chestnut brown.
Then and only then, do the horse chestnut prickles soften.
And the horse chestnut shell open, so the horse chestnut can fall to the ground.
At which point, squirrel actually helps out.
He’ll eat some. But scurry off and bury most around the place.
Those he buries and forgets will emerge as new horse chestnut saplings.
And with a bit of luck grow into magnificent new horse chestnut trees.
If, like us, you collect hoards of conkers, do, before squirrel gets his mits on ’em, pop some in a pot.
Over the winter, your kids can watch as the horse chestnut germinates and the tree starts to grow.
Although, if your garden is small like ours probably best not to let it grow for too long.
Do have fun observing all the clever stuff the horse chestnut tree gets up to across the year.
And for more simple ideas for exploring nature with kids check out my other nature notes.
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