Horse Chestnut

Garden Clippings for Jan 7, 2023

The railway line running alongside Beaver Lumber, then going North through Camlachie made its final run in  the late sixties.  The track was abandoned and ignored for 15 years until the mid 80’s when Sarnia Township sent a letter to each property owner asking if they’d like to purchase the section abutting their piece of the track.

City Councilor Howard Watson had a better idea.  He approached the Lambton Wildlife group to determine if there was interest in establishing a nature trail where the track once stood.

There was not unanimous support for the idea.  The concept of a linear park wasn’t easy to swallow.  There were liability issues.  And Sarnia Lambton already had more public parks than most municipalities.  At the end of the day, a decision was made to transform the track into a trail, and today we are all beneficiaries.

The most natural section of the Howard Watson Nature Trail is the 2-mile piece between Modeland and Telfer Roads, where the trail is adorned with mature trees, many with a history older than you and me.

One such tree is Horse Chestnut, botanically known as Aesculus hippocastanum.  There are not many Horse Chestnut trees along the trail, but they are easy to spot with their decorative white flower cluster and distinctive leaves.  Horse Chestnut becomes a tall, stately tree, with a rounded top and dense foliage.

Horse Chestnut should not be confused with Sweet Chestnut or American Chestnut.  At first glance their fruit and foliage look similar, but the trees are hardly related.  Horse Chestnut originally hails from Europe and was probably introduced to North America by early settlers.

Those who think of gathering Horse Chestnuts at Christmas time and roasting them on an open fire will be sadly disappointed and mistaken.  Just a few bites of Horse Chestnut will send you to the open white bowl rather than an open fire.

Horse Chestnut is an adaptable ornamental tree that tolerates wind, cold, heat, drought and wet soil.  Most homeowners won’t like Horse Chestnut because it is prone to a fungus blight causing leaves in summer and fall to turn brown and fall prematurely.

American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large growing tree that once dominated the forests of Ontario and northern to eastern USA.  Unfortunately, over the decades or perhaps centuries nearly all American Chestnuts have succumbed to a fungal disease called Chestnut blight.  Most of the few remaining native Chestnuts are found near Lake Erie.

Tree conservationists are making noble attempts to return American Chestnuts to Canadian landscapes but are finding propagation difficult, and small sapling-sized trees are tasty food for deer and other forest animals.