Know Your Trees: Ginkgoes

All yes, the dreaded ginkgoes. This week GM tackles his long stinky nemesis. If you live here, you’re probably already familiar with these trees, but if not, here we go.

The ginkgo is an old tree. A really, really old tree. It has been around for at least 270 million years. That’s 9.8 billion Scaramuccis.

The tree is only found in the wild in China, but it has long been chosen as an ornamental tree throughout the globe. It is chosen primarily for the brilliant yellow fall foliage it displays. You’ll be able to see this around Rose Park, R St. by Montrose Park and Potomac St. in about 4-6 weeks.

You can recognize the tree during the summer months from it’s distinctive and quite beautiful fan-shaped leaf:

On top of his fall foliage, the tree is also chosen for urban environments because it is considered hardy and can withstand the harsh conditions.

But, at least in GM’s opinion, the charms of this tree are largely outweighed by the drawbacks. And on the top of the drawbacks list is the dreaded ginkgo seeds (or stinko berries, as GM calls them). These seeds, which appear more like a soft fruit or berry than a seed, arrive with the fall foliage in great numbers:

And as you probably know they smell absolutely awful. It’s an acrid mix alternating between the smell of vomit, excrement and spoiled milk. The city attempts to spray the trees to discourage the seeds from growing, but it is only so effective:

(One year they tried an alternative treatment involving injecting the trees with a vitamin C mixture. It was a disaster, the trees had a huge crop of seeds and were still shedding them well into the next spring).

The seeds only appear on female ginkgo trees. And female ginkgo trees tend to be smaller than male ones. So you might wonder, why plant female ginkgoes? For one thing, they produce far less pollen. For another, the trees can change sex. So planting a male ginkgo sapling doesn’t guarantee a male adult tree.

And growth points to another drawback of this species. It grows really slowly. And even at full growth, it does not produce much in the way of a canopy.

This is a fine ornamental tree, planted off in the distance. But as an urban street tree its faults are simply too great and are not overcome by its few charms.

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