01 Oct Ginko Stink

Our neighbor John suggested I say something about ginko trees. We have three tall ones standing in the long stretch of sidewalk on the streetside of our house. Ginkos are a popular city tree because they’re hardy, grow fast, and offer good shade. But they’re an odd choice because, eventually, they grow too big for sidewalks. Already one of ours is upheaving six feet of concrete. Also ginkos drop the stinkiest, messiest fruit you’ve ever encountered. One of our ginkos is dropping its load now, making a mushy, malodorous mess on the sidewalk. John and his dog have to edge around this several times a day.

Our first fall in the house, I didn’t know where the stink was coming from. I thought someone had puked on the sidewalk. That’s what ripe ginko berries smell like. Nothing comes closer. But then the smell followed me indoors. When I raised my shoe for a look, I saw mashed berries wedged in the waffle-treads of my soles. Later, Jill and I surveyed the smeared, puke-reeking sidewalk and shook our head in dismay. What an awful stinking mess.

Originally from China, the ginkgo was popular in Japan too and, in fact, named by the Japanese. “Ginkyo” in their language means “silver apricot.” Asians like to eat ginko nuts. On occasion we see a Chinese women gathering the fallen fruit from our sidewalk – an activity that makes us very grateful. By the way, you can NOT eat ginko nuts with abandon. They are poisonous. It’s recommended that an adult eat no more than ten a day and a child eat only five.

Our ginkos glow brightly in autumn and their distinctive, lobey leaves get everywhere. If you want to plant a ginko tree, be sure to get the male (though I don’t know how you tell). I suspect that Baltimore got a bargain on these trees and didn’t ask questions. We city-dwellers are responsible for the upkeep of our sidewalks. Which is to say that nobody from City Sanitation is going to drop by to shovel up our reeking berry mash. This week Jill and I gathered the first haul. There will be lots more. Bountiful and generous, ginkos keep on giving. That’s something to admire, I suppose.