English Common Name: Horse-chestnut or Conker Tree
Serbian Common Name: Divlji Kesten (divlji means “wild”)
Scientific Name: Aesculus hippocastanum
Plant Family: Sapindaceae (Soap Berry Family)
Native To: Serbia, Albania, Greece (Balkans)
This is one of the most common street trees one sees in Belgrade and rightly so because of its spring flowers, dark shade, and the interesting nuts they produce.
There are close to 20 different kinds of horse-chestnut trees world wide. In the USA they are known as “buckeyes” due to the nuts looking like the eye of a male white-tailed deer (buck). Here in Europe they are called horse chestnuts because they look like chestnuts, but they are not easily edible.
This particular species is native to Serbia and Balkans. It is now cultivated in temperate regions throughout the world. The leaves (below) are huge, compound, and palmate. The tree lines many of the streets in our suburb of Senjak including the parking lot of the African Museum.
In the UK and Ireland, children use the nuts to play a game called “conkers.” The nuts are put on a string and then the children take turns in trying to knock off the other’s conkers by striking with their string of nuts. Sounds like a few students would be sent to the principal’s office or Ms. Lili if the ISB students ever found out about it. I would like to try to make a necklace with them.
According to my research, they are supposed to be mildly poisonous and bitter and only edible by horses. Below, I saw the Sweet Chestnut nuts being roasted and sold on the Knez Mihailo. (below). They sold for $1 a bag and they were pretty good tasting, although they were messy. They are a source of starch and in WWII, they were used as a solvent to make cordite for artillery.