Monday, November 2, 2009


One of my favorite trees, here at the manor, is our huge old ginkgo.
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:

Ginkgo Biloba

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.


  1. it is a sweet tree(except when it is not) My neighbors have 3 gum trees, which right now are in fire with their fall coat. They are wonderful to look at.

  2. What sweet poem of love and being pleased.

  3. That is such a beautiful yellow tree! The leaf on your window looks like it's asking to come in for a visit! :)

  4. The fall splendor of these brilliant yellow trees is beyond compare. I have always loved them. I was just out today for a little while in my birthplace, Columbus, GA, hoping to see some but, thus far, it hasn't been cold enough for there to be much leaf change! Yours is fabulous.

  5. All our Ginkgos have turned, too. The yellow of the autumnal Ginkgo is so bright that I'll bet you could read a book under one at midnight!

  6. what is the secret Goethe referenced? Do you know?
    I love the leaf on your window! very pretty.

  7. I recall the ginkos from Charlottesville, VA--they are quite lovely, tho the odor as you say is intense.

  8. My in-laws had a wonderful ginkgo tree in their backyard. And I love the pictures! They are great.

  9. We also have two of these beautiful trees on our property. Ours haven't turned yet though, and don't turn shock yellow all at once. Rather they start at the top turning yellow and move downwards so you will have a lime(ish) green and the bottom transitioning to yellow at the top. Mine do not make the stinky fruit for which I am thankful.

  10. Beautiful
    And I just love the word ginkgo, the way it looks the way it's very fun :)


  11. Wonderful pics, so much yellow in one place is indeed a wonder to behold. -Jayne

  12. They are certainly one of the stars of autumn, aren't they? Such a gorgeous yellow. Do the male trees smell, too? And do both sexes look the same?

  13. Your tree is beautiful in its autumnal crown of golden leaves.

  14. How beautiful your entire page is today, Willow. Love the new banner - the colors and of course the ginko leaf pics. We have them here, too, though I think they aren't quite as far along as yours.

  15. willow what a golden rich posting and what a beautiful place to be - i'm glad to learn about the gingko. well not so much the smelly part! willow you're precious . . . and that's in the old use of that word which is (sadly) used sarcastically these days. have a lovely evening at the manor. steven

  16. What a beautiful tree and post. I am not at all familiar with this tree. Too bad it has to smell bad. I love the Mimosa tree and that is a big yucky mess in the fall. Sweet poem and to the point.

  17. Earlier this year, at the very start of autumn, I remember thinking that this winter as the world outside darkened, I would not feel the dim narrowing of things, the seasonal sadness. Because Willow would be posting of beauty and light and clever things.
    This post is just such another reminder. Thankyou :) And to all your readers, who write such warm and clever things too.

  18. What a beauty! The leaves are so very elegant. What nice earrings they would make!

  19. They are a fascinating and beautiful tree.

  20. "Later that month, he saw Marianne for the last time..."

    I love randomly-dropped, inexpressibly-sad tidbits like this.

  21. How very interesting, Willow. I love trees and I'm sure a lovely Gingko would fit in here. What a beautiful leaf.

    Now leave those nasty seed pods to just dangle; oh peeyoo!

  22. That's a lovely avenue of trees, Willow, and the gingko is particularly beautiful. We should all have had fans like that gingko leaf to flutter on the night of the Manor Ball.

  23. Wow! What a great view you have out your window. It almost looks like it is not real, it is so gorgeous! I just think it is so great to be able to see how everyone lives and what they see when they look out their windows. Just incredible. Makes me want to move to your neck of the woods!

  24. Well, next time one of my colleagues go to Dusseldorf (they really do) I will have to tell them about this!

    Yes, I quite agree--an incredible tree. You certainly have a gorgeous view of them from your home. Lovely.

  25. Willow

    I always learn something when I visit, and this post is no exception.

    Fabulous colour in those leaves.

  26. Another reason to love your post, as usual, is that this is part of my evening ritual. I always make a hot infusion of peppermint, chamomile, green tea and a mix og ginkgo, ginger and ginseng. It works a treat. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  27. As usual beautifully composed and edited post which gives the bonus of information you can take away and store for the winter. But, again as usual, it is the photographs that leave the greatest impression - you have such a feel for form and composition.

  28. I have never seen one of these trees but I believe that they are one of the oldest of tree species.

    Are they good for the memory, if so I could do with a bit myself?

    It looks very splendid in it's autumn colours.

  29. Your post brought back memories of my time at National Cash Register Company in Dayton. I worked in Research and Development there and they were working on carbonless paper and they even tried making paper and among the material were ginkgo leaves from the trees that lined Main Street. There was one or two trees there that smelled bad. I had forgotten about it until I read your post.

  30. seriously willow,
    you have such a deep and rich life.
    (dog poop aside)
    i need you to write a novel and have them make it into a movie.
    i don't read as much as you.
    *beautiful post as always

  31. Is Goethe's secret that it smells like dog poop?

    No, that wouldn't be romantic would it?

    I'm always getting Romance and dog poop confused.

  32. What a lovely post and so relavent for me as we have two very mature ginkgo trees in our yard. One has almost completely turned and, as happens every year, they drop very few leaves until suddenly one day, they're leaf less. It's amazing to watch, year after year. Unfortunately, they both have the awful smelling fruit which has to be picked up and bagged. Our garbage men just love us!

  33. What a wonderful post. The trees are beautiful and I envy you the view. Goethe poem is beautiful; I'll have to search for the rest of it... and the two ginkgo leaves on the page resemble hearts. Very sweet.

  34. Goethe could win me over with that poem, and a couple of Ginko leaves...I'm easy!
    Mellow yellow...

  35. Willow,
    My husband (Barry, a.k.a Mr Romance) had a chemo treatment last week. Have you ever heard of chemo brain? =D
    I was about to write how lovely your Ginkgo tree looks. It's like it has soaked in all the sun's rays so it can still light our world through the clouds of November. Roy's comment was memorable, like a haiku without the form. Thank you for sharing this tree post, Willow.

  36. When I was a child, our grade school had a wonderful Victorian mansion next door and an old ginkgo tree out front, it was such a curiosity to this Nature girl, that I was continually harvesting leaves for my scrapbooks, no fruit on this tree though, as it surely would've been torn down, as was the mansion.

    So sad when memories are clouded by the loss of ancient, familiar would've loved it too Willow.

  37. What a great idea, to combine the tactile form of the actual leaves with the intangible words on the page. It would work well with feathers too, don't you think?

    The gingko leaves are lovely. I wish I had one of those trees here at the Hyggehus.

  38. just stunning pics willow! really lovely. :)

    have a great week!! -Tracie

    p.s. check out my blog for a little after halloween treat. ;)

  39. I suppose if all of the leaves looked liie fans I would not love the ginko quite as much as I do. There is one growing on the University campus, every fall I collect a few leaves and honor them.Not many ginko grow here- makes it more special.
    Want to join in on Word week this Friday- it is a fun word "HOLE" - I am sure that you would come up with a great interpretation...might be fun!If so go to my blog and leave comment- I will link to you on Friday.

  40. Your blog is always a vacation. The true meaning of this virtual odyssey. Thanks willow.

  41. Wow, the photos are beautiful! I'd imagine it would be even more stunning in person. :)

  42. Sadly I live in a ginkgo free zone (I think). A really interesting blog Willow, thank you.

  43. A bit deep that poem willow, but the leaves are such a beautiful colour.

  44. Goethe's Ginkgo...the secret his love of the girl and the tree; maybe?
    Heard it is good for memory loss but be careful also a blood thinner which is not to be used if going under the knife. We have an arbourtorum (tree park) with wonderfully rare trees. The gingko is resplendent; shimmering dancing leaves. Wonders what Goethe did with Marianne under ye ol' ginkgo tree. Maybe that's why she left and got thee to a nunnery! Or smells like what? Maybe too much rain this year to get too stinky. But yah, that would definitely ruin the moment with Marianne.

  45. how wonderful the poem and the the new header!

  46. Love the gingko pics.
    In Boise some years back there was a controversy over whether to remove some female gingkos from the downtown area. The argument for removal was the smell of the fruit and what it was costing the city to clean it up once a year. The argument against was that they were beautiful, mature trees.
    I don't know how it ended.

  47. Beautiful images and poem!

    I took pictures of ginkgo leaves just the other day,
    they were like a beacon of light, even though it was otherwise a soupy grey day.

  48. Lovely photos of the changing leaves on this special tree.

  49. Lovely--I always think the leaves are the prettiest, and there's nothing else like them. Great photos, Willow!

  50. What a lovely tree. It is interesting that the fruit smells.

  51. I'm just now catching up on your posts. What a gorgeous tree! The leaves are so unique (and it sounds like the smell is unique also!). The oaks and maples around here are aflame. Love the new header photo! Very autumn-ish :)

  52. Its also the memory tree ..

  53. Lovely poem. Beautiful tree.

  54. If it smells a bit, best to gaze on its lemony yellow loveliness from inside! (That picture is exquisite.)

    I want to learn more about trees; any interest in doing a series on them?

  55. I've never seen a Ginkgo tree before. Stunning!


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)