It is a well-known fact that mature trees create a sense of scale and space. Tree-lined streets are charming and grand, so much so that people pay extra to live on them. Granted, it must be the right tree, in the right place, and have good form.
One of my most favorite trees is the Ginkgo. Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as Maidenhair Tree is the oldest tree on earth. It dates back to the age of the dinosaurs and remains unchanged to this day. It has survived over 200 million years because it is strong and tough. One might assume that the ginkgo, with its delicate fan shaped leaves and elegant tiered branching structure would not be so resilient. Its’ leaves and hard wood lure very few pests. If ginkgoes get sick or injured, they can sprout aerial roots under mature branches that eventually grow into a whole new colony of ginkgoes upon contact with soil. Because of their resilience, tame roots, and low water needs, the ginkgo makes an excellent street tree.
Ginkgoes are show-stoppers every autumn, with rich golden leaves that create the most beautiful leaf litter I have ever seen (besides Japanese maples, another favorite). If you examine a ginkgo leaf you will see that it is unlike any other, with veins travelling from the stem to the tip of the leaf like an elegant fan. They are grassy green in the spring and summer, and then turn a rich, solid yellow in fall before creating a gold carpet on the ground. Because of the thickness of the leaves they don’t create a slippery mess.
Ginkgoes do have, what some may consider, ‘drawbacks’. The nuts borne on the female ginkgo trees reek of vomit. Then again, the nuts are extremely prized in many Asian cuisines and are difficult to harvest, much like pine nuts. I agree it may not be pleasant if a female ginkgo is planted outside a restaurant or as a street tree in a dense urban area. But there are several very striking and widely available fruitless varieties for this purpose, such as ‘Autumn Gold, and ‘Princeton Sentry’. For this reason, male trees are solely used as street trees these days.
Another ‘drawback’ to the ginkgo is that it is slow-growing. Even if purchased in a larger container size, like a 24” box, it doesn’t have a particularly spectacular form or canopy, arriving only 7’ tall and 2’ wide. Its’ awkward adolescent years last much longer for ginkgoes than for humans, but then again, they can live a lot longer than us. The oldest surviving specimen is 2,500 years!
So if you are not in the business of flipping houses or are a terribly impatient sort, I strongly urge you to consider a ginkgo. Their beauty, elegance, and longevity will be unmatched in your forever home. Even better, if you are lucky enough to have an established ginkgo, treat it with the reverence and respect it deserves. Consider its’ past and very long future.