Fall Color Primer 9: Ginkgo biloba trees
Fall Color Primer 09: Ginkgo biloba trees
The ginkgo biloba, also known as maidenhair tree, is the only extant species of an entire plant division, ginkgophyta (just two steps down in the hierarchy of plants from the top rung, plant kingdom). All other members of all the intervening levels (class, order, family, genus) are known only in the fossil record. The leaves have an instantly recognizable fan shape, with radial veining that is unique among now living seed plants. During the growing season, the foliage is a pleasing light green, but in fall it turns a rich pure gold. Although there is pleasure enough in seeing these trees in isolation, or with leaves seen against a bright blue sky, my favorite views of them are in juxtaposition to the colors of other trees, notably the crimson of red maples and the deeper red of white oak, which are also at their peak when ginkgos are in their glory.
The fall color of ginkgos develops rather later in the season, typically late October or even early November where I live. Once a given tree reaches peak color, that condition may last as little as a day, or as long as a couple of weeks. In my experience, a brief period is the norm. The leaves of a given tree may all fall over a short period, leaving a remarkable carpet of gold at the foot of the tree. The photographer hoping to capture the best color of a given tree needs to be vigilant, not procrastinate when the chosen subject appears to be peaking in color, and keep fingers crossed for calm and sunny conditions rather than windy, rainy, or worse, snowy weather during the critical period. Fortunately, not every tree in an area reaches peak color on the same day(s).
Where I live ginkgos are grown mostly as single trees, though there is one planted grove at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. In the wild, their vegetative habit can produce extensive dense groves. They are relatively shade intolerant, and do best where they aren’t overshadowed by taller mature trees. Ginkgos are dioecious, with individual trees being either male or female. The female trees bear fruit (nuts with a fleshy outer coating) which when rotting smells pretty bad. The smell comes from butyric or butanoic acid, the same chemical that gives rancid butter its stench. Other descriptions of the smell of rotting ginkgo berries reference vomit, poop, unwashed gym socks, and boiled egg farts. For this reason, male trees are preferred, but I have found a few female ones whose fruit I have photographed to include in the poster. Anything for art!
A couple dozen new uploads of ginkgo photos taken this fall can be seen here, including the ones incorporated in this poster:
arctangent2019OctoberNovembernatureseasonsfallautumnfall foliagefall colorsmontagecollagecompositeginkgo bilobaginkgo fruitginkgo leavesginkgo foliage