The Midas Touch

Whether the day begins overcast or not, golden sunbeams have flooded our bedroom each morning for the past week. Two male ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba) dominate the small pond garden just feet from our window and their fan-shaped leaves take on an luminous golden glow, a fall color second to none. We have watched for weeks as the bright green leaves began their fall journey turning faintly yellow at the tips, green slowly fading, and being replaced by more and more yellow. Many leaf-peepers and shutterbugs are awed by lemony ginkgo tree in fall landscapes, remarking that the color is too short-lived, the leaves all dropping within 24 hours. But we have developed a relationship with our ginkgos, watching the fall arrive slowly, reaching a crescendo of color lasting almost a week before it paints the ground, deck and pond in melted butter within a couple of days. Click photos to enlarge.

Another name for the ginkgo, this living fossil unchanged for 150 million years, is the Maidenhair tree,  some believe a name given to describe the parallel veins that fan outward like a maiden’s hair, but the resemblance to the pinnae of the Adiantum capillus-veneris or Maidenhair fern in fact gives the tree this nickname.  The species name, biloba, describes the split in the middle of the leaf, hence two-lobed.

Our two males command this area of the landscape, giving us essential shade in the summer and glorious color in the fall… but we cannot forget our smaller female ginkgo that continues to produce her pungent fleshy seeds each fall in another area of the yard. We allow these abundant seeds to germinate and the small trees we dig and share with anyone who expresses a desire to grow a living fossil, sex undetermined for 20 – 30 years. Today, cultivars like ‘Autumn Gold’  are created through grafting, splicing the cuttings from males on rootstock grown from seed.  And sadly, the tree is red-listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of Threatened Species due to the preference for the male ginkgo trees in the landscape.

If you live near me in Gloucester VA, I’d love to save a baby for your garden. Plant it away from public areas, especially sidewalks, just in case in 30 years, ‘he’ turns out to be a ‘she.’

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

8 thoughts on “The Midas Touch

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Midas Touch « GCV Horticulture --

  2. I live near you, I will take a baby. Maybe put a couple on the Wayside hillside at Flat Iron? Not a native so not sure it would be the right thing to do.
    There is a glorious avenue of these golden beauties on the edge of the parade ground at The Naval Academy in Annapolis MD. They were full grown forty years ago. Have you any idea how long this tree will last?


    • Well, I know they can live over a thousand years! There is one in China reported to 3500 years old however that is unsubstantiated. Our ginkgos are upright and open at 40-years old. After age 100, the canopy begins to widen, females a little more than males.

      Breathtaking is the stand of 340 ginkgo trees at our state arboretum at Blandy VA, said to be the largest collection outside of China.

      I have a choice seedling with your name on it….


  3. This is one of my favorite trees. I wish I could take you up on your offer, but I have no room. I gave one to my parents on the Eastern Shore and it has thrived despite being flooded by salt water at least once per year.


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