Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba is a survivor. The dinosaurs knew this tree, which has been on the planet for 150 million years, perhaps much longer. It is the oldest known tree species.
The common name, maidenhair tree, derives from the resemblance of the tree’s foliage to that of maidenhair fern. The delicate foliage turns a lovely, clear yellow in the fall.

The tree is much tougher than the common name suggests. Municipal tree departments love it because it is pollution tolerant, low-maintenance, and quite free of pests and diseases. Homeowners, dog walkers, and passersby are generally less enthusiastic. The reason: ginkgos typically have a ungainly habit (form) in youth. With age, however, they develop a craggy beauty. I have seen ginkgos in Japanese temple gardens that are 1000 years old, yards wide at the base, and majestic. The trees are said to survive for millennia.
Plainfield has numerous ginkgos, most quite young. There is a large female ginkgo at 810 Central Avenue just to the left of the driveway, about 50 feet back from the sidewalk. It is 38 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) and is estimated to be more than 100 years old, a young adult.

There is also a smaller female in the curbside strip directly in front of the building. Both trees litter the ground with prodigious quantities of powerfully malodorous fruit each fall. In general, only male ginkgos are planted in the U.S. because of the unpleasant odor produced by the females' fruit. Mistakes happen, however, so female ginkgos are not hard to find. Some Eastern cultures use the ginkgo seeds in cooking. In my neighborhood people can be seen gathering the seeds each fall from the ground below the female ginkgos on Watchung Avenue near Hillside. They use only the kernel, leaving the stinking seed coat where it fell. Some theorize that the stench of the seed coat evolved as a defense against seed-eating dinosaurs, but the tactic doesn't work against humans.

The street trees surrounding the Plainfield Library illustrate the ungainly habit of young ginkgos quite well.

The old ginkgo in the parking lot on the westbound side of the tracks at the Netherwood train station used to be a majestic presence. Sadly, it was inexpertly pruned (brutally hacked) in about 2004, each of its branches having been cut back to a 5-6 inch diameter stump. The tree is 48 inches dbh and is estimated to be more than 150 years old.

One last tidbit intended to motivate you to plant a ginkgo in front of your own house: Ginkgo biloba is a nonconformist. Among its oddities is its unusual sex life, which features swimming sperm. Ginkgos are among the few living things to have survived in close proximity to the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast. The tree is different enough from other extant plants that scientists have assigned it its own phylum. Recalling high school biology, the hundreds of thousands of members of the plant kingdom are divided into 12 phyla. One of those phyla consists of just a single species: Ginkgo biloba. The tree is the last remnant of an almost vanished tribe that represents an entirely different way of being a plant. Ginkgo biloba is a survivor.

Coming: Dawn redwood. I know of only four dawn redwoods (Metasequoia) in Plainfield, and only one of those is easily visible from the street. If you are aware of any notable dawn redwoods in town, please let me know, and I will try to include them in an upcoming posting.

Copyright Gregory Palermo


Rob said...

Cool...Great idea for a blog! Will be a dedicated reader of this! Major tree freak here..

Carol Davis said...

You should consider doing a blog on the Umbrella Leaf Magnolia. I have several. Evidently, this is as far north as they'll grow.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on starting this interesting blog! PLEASE write something about sweet gum trees and the @$%#! burrs that they are dropping all over my yard!

Jim Spear said...

Thank you for taking the time to share this with all of us. It was a nice break from the daily dreary news on the blogs. I just want to run out and buy a Ginkgo. These two very nice man on the corner of Denmark and Berkley have recently planted one.

I 'think' we have two Dawn Redwoods! I am not sure whether they are the ones you where counting. They are on Belvidere.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog!!! Thank you for creating another positive thought blog about Plainfield. I feel better already! I will be a faithful reader.

Anonymous said...

How about a readers submission list that will catalog the many different type of trees, with photo & address so they may be seen in Plainfield & fringe areas. I am not really sure what a Hickory, Chestnut or one of those stringbean trees are.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this new blog, and for the info on the ginkgo. I've always thought they were interesting, but I didn't know hao unusual they are. I live on Central and am very familiar with the two mentioned - and their fruits in the fall! Keep up the great work.

Ruth Sykes said...

Wonderful Blog! I just found it and started reading your archives and saw the notes on Ginkgos. there is a lovely one on Thornton Ave (1132?). I have a 15-20ft Japanees Maple in my back yard. Do you know of any others of that size in Plainfield? My arborist said he had never seen one so big!

Anonymous said...

Awesome blog, I had not noticed before in my searches!
Continue the excellent work!