Conkers: The seed of the Rambutan obsession?

The violent nut head Ang Mo cousin of the Angmohdan is the horse chestnut.

As a child I played conkers, a traditional children’s game using the seeds of Horse Chestnut trees. The game is played by two players, each with a conker threaded onto a piece of string: they then take turns striking each other’s conker until one breaks. This was obviously in the days before PlayStations and hand-phones. However, there was fun to be had in finding and collecting conkers, as well as playing the game itself.

The name ‘conkers’ has many origins, however three plausible theories are:

  • The dialect word conker, meaning “hard nut”
  • Influenced by the verb conquer
  • It may come from the French word ‘cogner’ meaning to hit.


The conker or Horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is a member of the Sapindaceae family, and believe it or not, the conker is the European cousin of the Asian rambutan!

Below is a picture of a Horse-chestnut in its spiky capsule.


Family: Sapindaceae
Genus: Aesculus
Species: Aesculus hippocastanum

Family, Genus & Species. What does that mean?


  • Family: is a classification that includes several genus. For example, the Primate family includes all primates like the orangutan and humans.
  • Genus: includes several species. For example, all the primitive humans are genus Homo.
  • Species: the lowest level of classification. For example, humans are Homo sapiens.

The Sapindaceae Family

Sapindaceae is a family of flowering plants with 1400–2000 species, including maple, horse chestnut, lychee, longan, pitomba, guinip, korlan, rambutan, and pulasan.

The Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum)


Family: Sapindaceae
Genus: Nephelium
Species: Nephelium lappaceum

Did you know?

  • Famous author Roald Dahl was a big conker fan. He said: “A great conker is one that has been stored in a dry place for at least a year. This matures it and makes it rock hard and therefore formidable.”
  • Unlike many other kinds of chestnut seed, conkers can’t be eaten by humans.
  • The first recorded game of conkers was on the Isle of Wight in 1848 and was modelled on a 15th century game played with hazelnuts, known as ‘Cobnuts’.
  • Horse chestnut trees originally came from Albania and Greece. They weren’t introduced to the UK until the 1600s.
  • Extracts from horse chestnuts have been used to treat malaria, diarrhoea, frostbite and even ringworm, as well as being an ingredient in most sun creams.
  • They develop in prickly cases, and are ripe in September and October – the ‘conker’ season.
  • The “horse” connection is twofold: (1) Horse Chestnuts were fed to horses in the East as a stimulant and to make their coat shine. (2) The leaf-scars on the twigs have the shape of a horseshoe, including the nail holes.
  • The World Conker Championships take place at Ashton, near Peterborough, every October. They began in 1965.
  • Some schools have banned children from playing conkers because they are seen as “dangerous weapons”.
  • In 1993 ex-Monty Python star Michael Palin was disqualified from an adult competition on the island for baking his conker and soaking it in vinegar.
  • It is commonly believed that spiders hate Conkers and will do anything possible to avoid them.

Same-same but different!

So after all these years I’m still “playing” with conkers. Well its cousin that is.

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