Lightning Strikes

One of our male ginkgoes was hit by lightning this spring. I noticed this sad fact after spotting small pieces of bark littering the ground around the border beneath the tree. Along the trunk of the tree are a number of splits in the bark that go straight into the ground.

Our two large male ginkgo trees grow near the corner of the home. These trees are tall but certainly not the largest trees in the yard. The sycamore and the poplar grow just yards from the ginkgoes and tower over these prehistoric trees.  It’s a mystery to me why lightning chose one of these male ginkgo trees.

We’ve heard about negative ions accumulating in storm clouds while positive ions on the ground build up, then lightning striking when the ionized paths meet. It can strike anywhere but when it strikes a tree, the sap heats to the boiling point and bark can explode from the trunk as the lightning exits the roots of the tree.

Leaves on one of the affected limbs of the ginkgo are undersized and oddly shaped but there are leaves!  That’s a very good sign. The tree does not look like it has extensive damage but time will tell. Extension agents say that it may take a year to discover the full damage to the tree so we watch and wait for the final verdict. Some things we have been advised to do now are aerate the soil around the tree, cut away any loose bark to the area of attachment to prevent rot, water well during dry periods, and fertilize in the fall to help the roots.

We are keeping our fingers crossed for this old friend.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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

Sapsuckers, Ginkgoes and Hummingbirds

A pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers spend the winter months hanging from my suet feeders but they have another feeding trait that annoys me. They drill holes in my tallest ginkgo tree.  Sapsuckers are the woodpeckers that make the series of small round holes that line up in neat little rows around the trunk of trees. From the holes, they lap up the oozing sap with their rough tongues and dine on any insects trapped by the sticky substance.

Our winter resident sapsuckers are migratory woodpeckers. They have now left Gloucester, following the sap trails to their northern breeding grounds in forested areas of Canada, the northeastern United State, and the higher elevations of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

And they’ve left me with a ginkgo full of holes. I’ve read that the holes do not damage a tree and are purely cosmetic. I’m not convinced of that. The holes they have made in this ginkgo are numerous.  When I hear their telltale Morse code knocking on the ginkgo, I often open the door and clap my hands to send them back to the suet or the woods. However, they know I’m all bark, no bite, and they rarely fly. They simply hide like a squirrel on the far side of the tree until I give up.

But in Mother Nature’s wisdom, she makes sure there is a reason for everything and order in her kingdom. She has taught me appreciation for these small woodpeckers for they provide needed sustenance for other creatures.  I have seen squirrels, insects, and other birds at those ginkgo holes at a time of year when food sources are scarce.  Widely known among bird watchers is the fact that hummingbirds arrive during the migration of sapsuckers. It is the sap and the insects that are trapped within that sustain the tiny birds until nectar flows from flowers.

The sapsuckers are long gone and the first hummingbird has arrived to feed on the ginkgo sap and insects, my newly mixed nectar and the blooms of our new Red Buckeye tree.  If a hummingbird could smile, I know he would.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester