Ginkgo biloba, is a unique species of tree with no close living relatives.
I adore their lovely, Asian fan-shaped leaves. The old popular name
of "Maidenhair tree" is because the leaves resemble the leaves of the
Maidenhair fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris. I took the above photo
last week in the manor drive.
Our particular tree happens to be a female and produces a fleshy
light yellow-brown, soft, fruit-like seed pod. They're pretty and look
a bit like small apricots, but contain butanoic acid and smell like
rancid butter, which contains the same chemical, by the way. To be
more specific, they smell like feces, or as my kids always said, "dog
poop". Our Ms. Ginkgo didn't drop many pods this year. Could the
old girl be menopausal?
The older Chinese name for this tree is yínguǒ, or silver fruit. The
scientific name ginkgo appears to be due to folk etymology. Chinese
characters typically have multiple pronunciations in Japanese, and
the characters used for ginnan can also be pronounced ginkyō.
Engelbert Kaempfer, the first Westerner to see the species in 1690,
wrote down this pronunciation in his Amoenitates Exoticae, 1712;
his "y" was misread as "g", and the misspelling stuck.
German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe sent Marianne
von Willemer a ginkgo leaf and on September 15, 1815 read the
following poem he composed to her. Later that month, he saw
Marianne for the last time, and showed her the ginkgo tree in the
garden of Heidelberg Castle, from which tree he took the two leaves
which are pasted on the poem.
The letter containing this poem with the two ginkgo leaves can be
viewed in the Goethe Museum in Düsseldorf.
Translated into English, the poem begins as follows:
This leaf from a tree in the East,
Has been given to my garden.
It reveals a certain secret,
Which pleases me and thoughtful people.