Ecophysiology of horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum L.) in degraded and restored urban sites

Jacek Oleksyn, Brian D. Kloeppel, Szymon Łukasiewicz, Piotr Karolewski, Peter B. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


We explored changes in growth, phenology, net CO2 assimilation rate, water use efficiency, secondary defense compounds, substrate and foliage nutrient concentration of a degraded urban horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum L.) site restored for three years using mulching (tree branches including foliage) and fertilization (primarily nitrogen addition). Prior to restoration, this site was characterized by high pH (ca. 8), low foliage and substrate N, and high Na and Cl concentration. Our data indicated that in untreated plots NaCl used for road deicing is the decisive factors that may be responsible for the decrease of foliar N concentration (via a reduction in NO3- uptake), for the decrease in photosynthesis (through high concentrations of Na and Cl in the leaves) and for increased senescence of the leaves. After three years of treatment, total nitrogen concentration in substrate increased by 3- to 4-fold and calcium concentration decreased by more than 50% in relation to pretreatment levels. Treatment significandy increased seed production (from less than 12 to more than 100 seeds per tree), individual leaf mass (from 1.8 to 3.3 g/leaf), CO2 assimilation rate (by 21 to 30 %), improved leaf C:N ratio, and increased foliage life span by as much as six weeks. The beginning of leaf fall in untreated control trees started in mid-July and those of mulched and fertilized trees in late October. Applied treatment also eliminated visible symptoms of leaf damage due to high sodium and chlorine levels, indicating the possible role of other factors in the development of necroses. After three years of treatment, pH of most degraded plots declined from 8.2 to 7.8. That decline was accompanied by an increase in foliar Zn, Cu, and Pb concentration in the mulched and fertilized plants. In addition, treatment lowered foliage phenolics making these plants potentially more vulnerable to insect herbivory. Our study indicates that stable carbon isotope discrimination is of little value as an indicator of cumulative salinity and urban environment stress in A. hippocastanum due to pronounced differences in leaf phenology and ontogeny. The results of our study show that street tree recovery can take as little as two to three years after application of fertilization and mulching.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-260
Number of pages16
JournalPolish Journal of Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2007


  • CO exchange
  • Horse chestnut
  • Restoration
  • Stable carbon isotopes
  • Urban environment


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