They are free of disease and pests (presumably because none co-evolved with them), and this in itself is a big deal when you consider the afflictions of elms, oaks, maples, lindens and ashes — and the effort, money and poisons expended to protect them. Ginkgos deserve a following on the simple basis that they are attractive and useful additions to our landscapes.
The fruit-wrapped nuts are messy and malodorous, if treasured in some quarters, and detract from tree’s value along a street or next to a patio. Its sex is not revealed until it reaches fruiting age, about 25 years, so if you wish to plant a clean ginkgo, the answer is to get a male clone.
Ginkgos, thus, have a place on our tree lists, especially as street trees so that we can see out the growing season in splendor. Certain streets in Shaw, Adams Morgan and Georgetown and no doubt other places are ginkgo-golden in November.
In 1982, Crane was among a small team of paleobotanists who came across fossils of an extinct ginkgo in a fossil-rich area of North Dakota. Their ginkgo, a species now bearing Crane’s name, was pegged at 57 million years old. The discovery raises questions, surely, about the wisdom of viewing plants “as native” or “alien,” a distinction that preoccupies a lot of people these days.
As much as we have saved the tree, we have the capacity to destroy it.
Crane points out that we can take a tree that has stood for centuries “and cut it down in a morning.” He reminded me of that awful episode in
in February when a contractor for the National Park Service
cut down Washington’s largest ginkgo
by mistake. If you look at the 140-year-old stump eight months later, you see distinctive baby ginkgo leaves sprouting at various points around its edge.
I sent a picture to Crane, who responded, “I think it could probably hang on — with a bit of protection while it gets going — but it will not mature into the most beautiful of trees.”
Clinging to life, the stump sits forgotten amid the bustle of downtown Washington. It is a discreet and sorrowful testament to the will of the incredible ginkgo to survive.