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Ginkgo – The Ancient Maidenhair Tree

Ginkgo biloba – Maidenhair tree

While we were living in Beijing we became fascinated with the ginkgo tree, sometimes called the maidenhair tree. This is an ancient tree and fossilized leaves dating back 270 MILLION years have been found. They saw the rise and fall of the dinosaur. Today it grows in many temperate and sub-tropical areas of the world because it is so unusual and beautiful and because it is so adaptable. It even tolerates pollution and is used in cities as a street tree.

Ginkgo leaves are distinctive with a fan shape, veins radiating from the stem end and a kind of waxy feel to the leaf.  Their flexible stems allow them to flutter in the breeze, giving form to a summer zephyr. And of course, in the fall they turn a brilliant gold, and most of those leaves will drop all at once during an autumnal night. The leaf above has two lobes which account for its name Ginkgo biloba, but it can have no lobes, or three lobes.

When we planted our trees everyone said “but their fruit stinks.” So I have heard many times before.  Was I worried? No. First off I have never experienced this stink in New York City or Beijing. Second, I have been told that they will not produce this fruit until they are over 30 years old – and we are old enough not to worry about things that may not happen for another ten or twenty years. As our construction guy said when we told him we were putting of a portion of our project he asked, “How long you plan on livin’?”

Ginkgos are male and female. I don’t know what we have. Perhaps we only have males and will never have to worry about stinky fruit. I did hear recently that nurseries propagate only male trees for this very reason. A friend told me that male and female ginkgos have different shapes.  One is more upright, and they other is more horizontal, but she didn’t know which is which. If anyone can illuminate this theory I will be glad to hear it.  I have both upright and horizontal trees. No sign of stinky fruit.

Our trees are about 15 years old, ceremonially planted by grandsons when they were between one and three years old. It was a great day, and the trees a tangible reminder.

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