The fall chill that we are all feeling in the air means something different to many people; football season, Halloween, pumpkin-spice lattes, or time to get started on Christmas shopping. One of our favorite parts of the season is the changing of the leaves. Travellers Rest is truly blessed to have so many different species of trees, but one in particular holds a special place in our hearts. The ginkgo biloba, for good or bad, always draws guests’ attention this time of year. Many people know the ginkgo tree because it “smells bad.” The smell is the result of stepping on the fruit that it produces, and yes, it does smell bad. However, there is more to this amazing tree than meets the nose.
The ginkgo biloba is the oldest species of tree on the planet. According to the fossil record they have remained virtually unchanged for the past 200 million years. That means that the dinosaurs that we read about as kids (or adults, no judgement) saw these same species of tree that we have today. It is so old that it has no direct living relatives. Botanist Peter Crane refers to them as “living fossils.”
The herbal supplement that you find in stores of the same name is made from the fan-shaped leaves and is supposed to improve one’s memory. However, that is not the case in the gingko’s home region. It is believed that the first human cultivation of ginkgoes occurred in China about 1,000 years ago. The Chinese also used the tree for medical treatments, but their remedy came from the tree nut and not the leaves.
Our favorite trait of this incredible plant is the way in which it changes the landscape. While we don’t know the exact age of our ginkgoes you can tell from looking at them that they are old. They are among the largest trees that we have on property, and they make excellent shade trees. This time of year is when we begin to pay particular attention to them. The fall air starts to turn their leaves from green to a bright yellow. While the sight of a towering, yellow tree is quite amazing, but what happens next is truly breathtaking. The ginkgo will hold onto its leaves until they all turn yellow, and then it releases them overnight. We will leave work one evening and marvel at the bright colored tree and return the next day to find a carpet of yellow around the property. A series of strong winds or storms will of course blow a large number of leaves off early most years, but the occasional Autumn with the perfect conditions make for a memorable sight.
This Fall we invite you to come see these “living fossils” for yourself. Our historical interpreters will be happy to tell you all about them. If you are lucky enough you might just catch them the day after they have dropped their blanket of yellow.