Sunday, October 25, 2009


If you have stepped on ground covered with the debris pictured in the photograph at the top, you know what this post is going to be about... I was surprised that my Mom, a lifelong gardener, was not aware of the "neighborhood nuisance" that is the gingko tree. The fact is that if the male trees are allowed to fertilize the female trees, they produce fleshy seeds that stink. Some describe the smell as rotten eggs or vomit, but I'm with those who say the "dingleberries" smell just like dog poop!
Because the female trees take 20-25 years to mature, the trees began producing seeds long after they had been planted in many urban areas in the 1970s. Some cities (Iowa City, IA, and Easton, PA) have removed the female trees. Many (including Bloomington, IN, and Lexington, KY) now have ordinances that ban planting female gingkos. Strangely enough, 1 in 100 male trees will actually change genders, reintroducing the problem! Other cities (Boston, Lansing, Santa Monica, and Washington, D.C.) bravely continue to plant gingko trees, so much beloved for their beauty and prized for their hardiness that their most notable characteristic is overlooked when necessary. But not by Richard Mahany of New York, who is tired of cleaning up the mess: "The tree is a menace....When I clean it up, I ruin my shoes and smell like vomit afterwards."
The smelly seeds have a nut inside that is eaten in some traditional Asian dishes. It is sometimes said to be an aphrodisiac, but is poisonous in large amounts. It is also believed to enhance memory and attention, but does not delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease, according to scientific studies. It does show promise in preliminary studies of reducing fatigue in MS patients...
Gingko trees grow naturally in China, but have been cultivated in North America for 200 years. They are deep-rooted, long-lived, tolerate small spaces, and are resistant to insects, disease, and damage from wind, snow, pollution, and road salt. Several gingko trees were among the few living things to survive the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima in 1945.
I learned from my research for this post that the gingko biloba is a living fossil. The tree has no living relatives and is the only extant species in its group - the rest having died out at least 2.5 million years ago.

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