A native of Asia, probably northern India.
It was introduced to Europe in the mid-16th Century.
Records from Vienna refer to a horse chestnut in the 1570s, which was noted as originating from the first tree to be grown in Europe – a tree in London, which is understood to have been planted in 1550.
Its common name is attributed to the fact that young trees display a marking similar to a horse’s shoe where the leaf was attached.
Although too bitter for human consumption, they were regarded as a premier feed for livestock.
In the Victorian publication called Gardener’s Chronicle, it listed details of mutton being fed on the trees’ seeds.
It added: ” Geneva mutton is noted for being as highly flavoured as any in England or Wales.”
The terminal buds on each stem are very sticky. It is this coating of gum-like material that protects the leaf inside from the winter cold and frosts.
As the temperature warms with the arrival of spring, the rise in termpaerature breaks down the gummy substance, allowing the protective bud scales to fall to the ground.
Eventually, the resistance of the gum is weakened enough to allow the leaf inside to break through and emerge into the spring air.
Source: The Forest Trees of Britain by Rev C A Johns
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