Chestnut Vs Conker: What’s The Difference?

Chestnuts and conkers are two similar-looking nuts you don’t want to confuse–whereas one is healthy and tasty to eat, the other can paralyze you. In this article, we’ll compare the chestnut vs the conker, comparing similarities and differences so you don’t accidentally gather and eat the toxic one.

What is a Chestnut?

What is a Chestnut

A chestnut is a type of nut produced by a chestnut tree. According to Michigan State University, there are different species of chestnut trees, including the American chestnut, Chinese chestnut, and Japanese chestnut.

Chestnuts are edible, delicious, and nutritious. They are often referred to as sweet chestnuts; they are high in starch which is converted to sugar when the nuts are cured, which gives them a deliciously sweet flavor.

Chestnut trees typically grow to about 40 feet tall. They produce shaggy, spiny fruits that contain several chestnuts in each one. 

The chestnuts themselves are reddish-brown and somewhat elongated, similar in shape to garlic cloves, and have points at the end. These nuts ripen in the autumn months and sometimes fall from their shaggy cases to the ground.

Some species of chestnuts are rarely found in the wild, as they have been ravaged by fungus; but many species are grown as ornamental trees and in orchards. 

What is a Conker?

What is a Conker

A conker is the name given to the fruit of the horse chestnut tree. The horse chestnut is not to be confused with other types of chestnut, as conkers are inedible and toxic.

Horse chestnut trees are native to Europe but are now grown throughout the world. They can grow as much as 100 feet tall. 

Horse chestnut fruits are unique in appearance; the conkers are contained inside greenish-yellow spiny “balls,” which often break open and shed their nuts in mid to late fall.

Conkers are reddish-brown in color, giving them a similar appearance to true chestnuts, but they are much more rounded in shape. They have a lighter colored circle on top of each nut.

Horse chestnut trees grow well in a variety of environments and can thrive even in poor soil conditions. They are often grown as ornamental trees.

The conkers they produce are used in a popular British game called Conkers. In this game, players attempt to use their conkers to break the conkers of other players.

Though they are toxic in their raw form, conkers are thought to have some medicinal properties. Processed horse chestnut extracts are sometimes used to treat varicose veins, venous insufficiency, hemorrhoids, and general inflammation.

Check out this video to learn more about the horse chestnut trees and the conkers they produce.

Chestnut Vs. Conker: Similarities and Differences

Chestnuts and conkers are often confused because of their similarities, but they have many differences to help you tell them apart. Let’s take a closer look at these similarities and differences.


  • Common names: Conkers are most often confused for chestnuts because of their similar sounding name, horse chestnut.
  • Deciduous: Both chestnut and horse chestnut trees are deciduous, and both tend to turn bright yellow in the fall before shedding their leaves.
  • Nut appearance: Both chestnuts and conkers are the same reddish-brown color. Though the nuts are shaped differently, some people confuse them because of the color as well as the fact that they are both contained inside husks that ripen and shed their nuts in the fall.


  • Scientific families: Chestnut and horse chestnut trees are not only different species, but they don’t even belong to the same family. Chestnut trees belong to the Fagaceae family and, as such are more closely related to beech trees; horse chestnut trees, on the other hand, belong to the Sapindaceae family and are more closely related to maple trees.
  • Edibility: The most important difference is the edibility of the two nuts. Chestnuts are edible and tasty; conkers are poisonous and can cause paralysis and other serious symptoms if eaten raw and unprocessed.
  • Husk: Both nuts grow and mature inside fruiting husks, but the husks are vastly different in appearance. Chestnut husks have a more shaggy appearance, similar to that of a porcupine; conker husks are green and leathery, covered with sharp-looking spikes.
  • Tree size: Chestnut trees are generally smaller than horse chestnut trees. Whereas true chestnut trees only grow to about 40 feet at most, horse chestnut trees can tower up to 100 feet high.
  • Leaves: Chestnut trees produce elongated, toothed leaves that grow singly from twigs and branches. Horse chestnut trees produce leaf clusters, with 5 to 7 leaflets growing in a circular pattern from each base.


Chestnuts and conkers are quite different from each other, especially in the fact that chestnuts are edible and conkers are not. That said, the two nuts are often confused for each other, as they both have the same reddish-brown color and conkers are often referred to as horse chestnuts.

Hopefully after reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the differences between chestnuts and conkers so you don’t accidentally confuse them when collecting them in the wild.

2 thoughts on “Chestnut Vs Conker: What’s The Difference?”

  1. Thank you for clarifying. What happens to the green shell of the edible chestnut? Can it be used for anything?

    And when the chestnuts are ready are they picked up one by one and the shell taken off one by one. It seems a tremendous lot of work if that is the case.

    • I grow chestnuts in my hobby orchard. Mature green husks fall from the tree. Some release their fruit before falling; most husks fall with nuts in them, or nearby on the ground.
      Green husks quickly dry, split, and turn brown. If there is any local disease, growers will rake out and remove fallen material–mostly empty husks. Nuts are still good. Many growers leave husks where they fall. I know of no use.
      Husk spines are remarkably sharp. To coax the nuts out on the ground, you wear boots and roll or pinch the husk. Whether coaxed, or free-fallen, nuts are picked up by hand or by a broom-handled nut sweeper (no stooping).
      Larger operations surely have a mechanized sweeper, but it must separate nuts from husks and other material (?). I do like to pick by hand, sorting for quality at the same time. Meditative.
      If you think that’s a lot of work, try getting to the nut one-by-one. Most are enjoyed roasted, but there are several other traditional uses such as flour and candied delicacies.


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