Come fall every year when every other fall colour leaf has already faded away, I look forward to the ginkgo tree’s leaves. This photo was taken at a nearby park.
I am posting an excerpt from an article below on the tree by Mark Brazil.
I find something inspiring in the bright yellow and pale gold of the ginkgo’s leaves. It is as if a summer’s worth of sunshine has been collected, concentrated and at last returned, bringing not only color but also depression-lifting brightness to gloomy early winter days.
A mature ginkgo, reaching to 20 or even 35 meters in height is a distinctive tree with a broad crown, widespread branches and curiously shaped leaves. Its history is also worthy of admiration — only a single species survives in a wholly unique family, the ginkgoaceae. A member of the gymnosperms, or “naked seed” plants, the ginkgo is sometimes called a “living fossil.” This relic of ancient times can be seen as symbolic of changelessness, surviving through an unimaginably long past.
As the fan-shaped leaves fall, they twist and spin, ultimately carpeting the ground in drifts of fine-ribbed shapes. Such golden cascades have been taking place each autumn and winter since before dinosaurs roamed the earth, and we are incredibly fortunate to be able to bear witness to the very last species of the ginkgos.
Perhaps you watched that wave of inspiring color wash over your hometown. Perhaps you live in Tokyo, in which case you can hardly avoid the official symbol of the capital — there the leaf’s shape is to be found almost everywhere, from roadside railings to official pamphlets, and the trees line many of the city’s streets. Though, as a symbol of changelessness, I wonder how it came to be chosen as the emblem for a city that has reshaped and reinvented itself over and over again.
Perhaps you enjoy the delicious ginkgo nuts (ginnan), which are served grilled on skewers and are commonly added to savory egg-custard (chawan-mushi).
Otherwise known as the Maidenhair Tree, the ginkgo’s ancestors were first recognized in fossil form, their leaves found in deposits dating back some 270 million years to the Permian Period. The Western world was ignorant of the existence of living ginkgos until the German physician and botanist Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), who lived in Japan from 1690 to 1692, discovered it here, where it had been grown from seeds imported from China around 1192 AD.
In China, this last remnant of a once great lineage of early seed plants had survived at the hands of
Buddhist monks who cultivated it in monastic, palace and temple gardens. Kaempfer carried seeds back with him to Europe and trees planted in the early 1700s can still be found growing there. It has subsequently been introduced as an urban street plant in many parts of the world, making it a surprisingly familiar tree to urbanites worldwide.
Herbalists know it as an important natural ingredient in medicines to boost energy and stamina and to sharpen the mind, and it is apparently used professionally in the early stages of treating dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, to such an extent that it is the most widely sold plant-medicine in Europe and one of the 10 top-selling herbal medications in the United States.
In our goal-oriented capitalist world, practical value and usefulness are respected attributes. In this sense, we can admire the ginkgo for its medicinal value, its food value, for being remarkably pest-and-disease free, and for being astonishingly tolerant of harsh conditions, including pollution, making it ideally suited for urban planting.
Yet, there is more than value here, there is a stunningly beautiful tree.
Perhaps your local trees are still golden yellow, perhaps their leaves have fallen and been scattered on winter winds. If you find one, take a moment to admire the extraordinary number of finely parallel veins running across the fan-shaped leaf. Soon the trees will be fresh-leaved and pale green again — further beauty to be cherished not for their value but merely for being there. And one day, if the technology arrives, perhaps we will be able to watch in real time and admire as that golden wave sweeps down the country, followed by the northward sweep of pale green.