Homeowners can avoid a stink by planting a male ginkgo tree
Posted: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 8:01 pm
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
Smell is the most evocative of all our senses.
Just drive down a country road on a wintry morning and snort up from some homestead the aroma of wood smoke, coffee and frying bacon (it carries an enormous distance). Immediately you’re timewarped back to Grandmomma’s, with Pappy at the table pouring his coffee into a saucer to cool and the old wood stove belching warmth into the snug kitchen.
So it was some years back when, as I walked through Centennial Park in Nashville, my olfactories picked up the rush of a staggering and putrid whang that can only be described as sickening to the nth degree. It was evocative, all right.
I was immediately thrust years into the past when our family was touring the Smokies in a 1949 Pontiac (not air conditioned of course) with Walter (father), Lorene (mother), Angela (daughter) and Evander (son) Jenkins, who had formerly lived in Paris. Evander was about 10 years old and the first to be affected by the winding mountain roads.
“I’m getting sick!” he groaned, about a millisecond before upchucking a couple of gallons of sour mess all over the wool upholstery of our car. The liquid part immediately soaked into the upholstery, the residue to remain forever, or at least until we had to give the car away to a widow with no sense of smell.
To make a long story mercifully short, others in the group, including Lorene, were catalyzed by Evander’s action as well as the smell of it all. Then various others had a spell at it. It was a long ride home.
I relate that repulsive adventure only to warn anyone who desires to plant a Ginkgo tree of the possible peripheral effect years down the road. That sniff I sensed in Centennial Park was of smashed fruits of a female Ginkgo growing along the sidewalk. The persimmon-like product, when ripe (no pun intended) smells exactly like Evander’s upchuckage. You don’t want one.
On the other hand, a Ginkgo is a magnificent tree, once mature, which takes a long time. Fall foliage is brilliant yellow and hangs on for weeks until the leaves fall off, sometimes all the same day.
Ginkgoes are long-lived trees, thus making our ongoing series on desirable trees grown for future generations. So far we’ve talked about oaks — white and post — which are natives. Ginkgoes are about as far from native as they can get.
But why plant a Ginkgo if it is going to stink? Well, it won’t, if a male tree is set. The problem is getting one. Any seedling tree (they come easily from seed) is as apt to be a nasty female as not. Some nurseries nowadays carry grafted male trees with the top-growth taken from known male specimens. These usually have a varietal (i.e. ‘Princeton Sentry’) name.
I said Ginkgoes are about as far from native as can be. In recent centuries at least they were only known in two small areas in China, where they were virtually worshipped. Longer ago, and at least as far back as 200 million years, they grew worldwide, as evidenced by the fossil evidence from their unique leaves.
These are fan shaped and look like giant maidenhair fern fronds, thus their other name, maidenhair tree. The trees are actually related to conifers, though there is no physical resemblance.
There are a number of Ginkgoes about town, virtually all of them seedlings. A few fortunate people have male trees, but the one I am closest to is a female, planted from a seed from an old Ginkgo that resided on East Blythe Street, where the First United Methodist Church Christian Life Center is.
My father (the same one that had to get rid of the polluted Pontiac) set the seedling out at our home on Greenacres Drive some 40 years or more ago. It now is a magnificent specimen some 60 feet or more tall but, alas, it is a female. Luckily it is some distance from the house, but not enough distance when the wind is right.
An enormous Ginkgo grows in Maplewood Cemetery. I would guess it at least 100 years old, and was probably planted when the cemetery was new. I can’t recall if it is a male or female, but a trip to the vicinity in November would prove it, one way or the other.
The Chinese and Japanese eat the seeds, which resemble persimmon seeds. How they ever get by the stinking flesh to get to them is beyond me.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Ginkgoes are fine trees for the future. Boys, that is.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 2.3.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path