Horse Chestnut

In the current urban context of the municipality of Desio, the public park of the noble Villa Cusani Tittoni Traversi is an undoubtedly interesting ecological heritage.

The charm of the place pushes the visitor to take a walk along the paths that penetrate into the wood and stop to observe the different tree species present. In spring, between May and June, the flowering of the horse chestnut /Aesculus hippocastanum strikes the eye. The plant belongs to the the Sapindaceae family, characterised by flowers that appear on the erect cob of inflorescences 20-30 cm in length. They are white and covered with blots that modify their colour, passing from yellow to orange and lastly, red. This is due to the pollination of the single flower. If the flower still has not been visited by insects, it has a yellow blot while if it has been pollinated, the colour changes to tell the insect to land on another flower that is full of nectar and has not been fertilized yet. The fruits are roundish capsules, and can reach a thickness of 6 cm, covered with needles and containing one or two shiny, brown seeds. A popular saying is that clasping these “crazy chestnuts” will prevent you from catching a cold.
The Horse chestnuts present in the park are majestic, up to 30 metres high, and are characterised by thick, dome-shaped crowns and thick branching, recalling the examples found in the garden of Villa Pusterla in Limbiate, located close to the Oratory of St. Francis. From the staircase of Villa Cusani Tittoni Traversi looking towards the meadow, together with the lush, non-geometric vegetation, the horse chestnuts in bloom seem to create an enchanting natural stage at the fountain with the statue of Neptune. The branches, set at the lower part of the crown, often hang downwards and allow you to closely observe the deeply indented leaves, up to a maximum of 25 cm in length. The single leaves that compose it have an oval shape and a very thin base, and at the start of its growth it is covered by thick, rusty brown hair which later remains only at the angular tips of the ribs. In autumn the leaves turn yellow.
The plant originated from the Balkans, and became extinct in Europe during the glacial era and was reintroduced in Vienna and Paris starting from the 16th century, spreading rapidly throughout Central and Western Europe. The tree grows on almost all types of soil, as long as it has a lot of space at its disposal. The bark of the horse chestnut is maroon-grey and smooth, and with the passing of time, tends to become darker. In the park of Desio the horse chestnut acts as a chromatic contrast with the plane tree, (Platanus acerifolia) and with the hackberry (Celtis australis). The wood is pale brown, very tender and is used to make toys, or in more recent times, fruit boxes. The name derives from the Greek ippo (=horse) and kastanon (=chestnut), because in Turkey the fruit was used to heal the cough of horses. Its fruits are excellent nutriments for wild animals and are often used in the preparation of pharmaceuticals since they are rich in tannin substances, starch and saponins.
Particularly appreciated as a road tree, the horse chestnut was generally planted in the noble villas in the countryside since it is a plant essence able to ensure a lot of shade. Today unfortunately, it is one of the trees that is most sensitive to city smog, which provokes an early yellowing of the leaves, and subsequently, death. Instead, the Indian chestnut (Aesculus carnea) is more ductile. Its flower is pink and has darker and smaller leaves. A cross-breed between the Aesculus hipocatanum and Aesculus pavia, it has dark leaves, reddish flowers and fruits without needles. This species can also be found in the park of Desio.