November 03, 2014

Ginkgo biloba's wonderful fall foliage and fruits (for some) at the Toronto Botanical Garden and Mount Pleasant Cemetery

"Thar's Gold in Them Thar Branches"


There's a figurative gold rush (and a literal one for some Asian cooks) in the canopies of Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair trees) all over Toronto now. Ginkgoes (plural could be either with or without the "e" apparently) are very common city landscape trees due to their ability to withstand pests and pollution. I've seen them in public parks, cemeteries, front gardens, and city boulevards.

The leaves of ginkgoes are unique. They are fan-shaped with a groove in the middle which forms two lobes (hence "biloba"). They also have a veining pattern called "dichotomous" because the veins fork out from the base of the leaf and don't cross.


Ginkgo biloba leaf fruit by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Ginkgo biloba leaf and  fruit at Allan Gardens Park in Toronto


Ginkgo fall foliage is a brilliant, bright and buttery yellow. When seen against a clear blue sky, the effect is breathtaking. However, it's not uncommon to discover most of the leaves on the ground the next day, en masse!


Yellow autumn ginkgo biloba leaves against blue sky by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Yellow autumn Ginkgo biloba 
leaves against a clear blue sky


Maidenhair tree Ginkgo biloba  autumn foliage Mount Pleasant Cemetery by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)  
autumn foliage at Mount Pleasant Cemetery 

Ginkgo biloba Maidenhair tree autumn leaves Mount Pleasant Cemetery by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree) autumn leaves
 at Mount Pleasant Cemetery 


Speaking of breathtaking, I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss the lovely (for some) fruit borne by female ginkgoes. Many years ago, I took my infant son for a walk through nearby Allan Gardens Park. I pushed my stroller past this tree:

Gingko biloba Maidenhair tree Allan Gardens Park by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Gingko biloba (Maidenhair tree) 
at the Allan Gardens Park in Toronto

and smelled something quite unpleasant. Now being in a downtown Toronto park, the origin of this smell could be human or animal. Not exactly fecal, more vomitous. In fact, very cheesy!

Well, I found out later as I studied Plant Identification college courses that this tree, being a female ginkgo, produces an abundance of malodorous fruit. The ripe fruit begin to rot immediately with the fleshy outer layer containing butyric or butanoic acid, a chemical also present in vomit and milk. (The word "butyric" is derived from the Greek word for "butter").


Ginkgo biloba Maidenhair tree fruit Toronto Botanical Garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree) loaded 
with ripe fruit at the Toronto Botanical Garden 

Now accidentally stepping on ripe fruit in a park is a minor inconvenience but I personally know of three female ginkgoes doing their autumn thing outside a busy office building. A little disconcerting to be in a meeting and catching a whiff of good old butyric acid!

One person's trash is another's treasure and this isn't any different with ginkgo fruits. Many older Chinese, Japanese and Korean ladies flock to female ginkgoes in the fall, gloves and bags in hands, to retrieve the fruits not for the bad-smelling outside pulp but for the nuts. I recall seeing a pile of ginkgo fruits at the base of the Allan Garden's ginkgo mentioned above that were obviously squished of their seeds. I can't imagine a squirrel doing this so...


When boiled or roasted, the seeds are edible and have a creamy and rich, well, somewhat cheesy flavour. I usually throw commercially prepared ginkgo nuts in a soup my son loves as they add a umami flavour to the stock. When combined with pork bones, shiitake mushrooms and dried bean curd, the soup is pure umami!

For a city gardener, buying and planting a ginkgo tree is still a bit of gamble. Theoretically, you're planting a male cultivar like "Princeton Sentry" or "Autumn Gold" that shouldn't produce fruit but don't be completely shocked to see and smell the fruits produced by a determined female ginkgo many years after planting.


Toronto Botanical Garden Ginkgo biloba Maidenhair tree fall foliage  by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Toronto Botanical Garden's  
Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree)  fall foliage  

Ginkgo biloba Maidenhair tree fall foliage Toronto Botanical Garden by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree)  fall foliage
 at the Toronto Botanical Garden

Maidenhair tree Ginkgo biloba autumn leaves Mount Pleasant Cemetery by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba) autumn leaves
 at Mount Pleasant Cemetery 

Ginkgo biloba Maidenhair tree autumn foliage Mount Pleasant Cemetery by garden muses-not another Toronto gardening blog
Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree) autumn foliage at
 Mount Pleasant Cemetery


Personally, I would still enjoy the brief and spectacular show every autumn while prudently making good friends with old Asian ladies and gentlemen in the neighbourhood.