Washington, DC

Gingko in AM

It stinks, Its ugly, It requires birth control: Three reasons against the Gingko tree

One of the best parts of fall in DC is a walk down a neighborhood street—crisp air, a crowd milling in front of a breakfast spot, an odd dog tied up for a quick pet. And then there is the one thing that stands in the way of that walk’s pure enjoyment.

For instance, walking down main street Adams Morgan you might notice a powerful smell and think a vat of butter has gone rancid in one of the less refined eateries, but you’d be wrong. It might come as a surprise to some to hear that that acidic putridity isn’t the puke vapors left over from some young group-houser who tossed his cookies on the way back to his down comforter and hand-me-down mattress. The waves of stink you are wading through are the stuff of a peculiar fruit. And let’s just hope you don’t hear the popping sound of one of those small fruits bursting under your foot, because that means you’re bringing the smell home with you.

The next time you’re walking down main street Adams Morgan take a look up and you’ll see what’s behind all of the stink-foot—the Gingko Biloba tree. And, by the way, you’ll be looking at one of the less attractive trees in the world (possibly, haven’t done that research). These trees would make a freight train take a dirt road, so to speak. The canopy is as gangly and awkward as a teenage boy. The double-lobed leaves (hence the Bi-loba part), which are kind of cool and do turn a great yellow in the fall, stick like unfortunate neck hair to every part of the branches. This is the tree that made the ugly stick and then beat itself up with it. To top it all off, as mentioned, it stinks too.

Gingko fruit and leaf litter

But, my friends, the story does not end here. We must ask why DC has chosen to populate our streets with these trees. The answer is that the Gingko Biloba tree is very hearty. It is said to easily survive pests, drought, storms, ice, and poor city soils. The Gingko is clearly putting all that it has abandoned on visual pleasantries and olfactory satisfactions into fighting for survival until the bitter end. It’s an admirable quality, but can’t there be a few hearty trees that will cling to life just as well and provide a little eye candy? Continues after the jump.

And on top of all of the aesthetic arguments, there is something even more substantive to offer in the prosecution. The Gingko Biloba is a dioecious tree, which means it has a distinct male and a female tree. Only the female tree produces the fruit which stomps and stinks under foot all-fall-long.

After planting them, in the wisdom of the Urban Forestry Administration of the District Department of Transportation it was decided to treat the female trees with Dikegulac-sodium. This chemical will sterilize the female tree, inhibiting the growth of the fruit. Imagine the hours of tax-funded workers wasted as they go around and sterilize all of these trees. Here is a quick tip for slashing the city budget: plant trees you don’t have to sterilize. Much less, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Further, I’m not a fan of another chemical being sprayed around town. I know that sounds crazy, but I get plenty of exposure to toxic chemicals already, thank you. The EPA assessment of Dikegulac-sodium concludes that its toxicity is pretty low-level, but I wouldn’t recommend spiking your next vodka soda with it.

Why doesn’t DC start planting hardy trees that don’t look like a poke in the eye and stink like a kick in the face and concentrate its sterilization efforts in more worthwhile directions, like with rats or condominiums. Oh, and did I tell you that a few studies just came out saying that the supposedly brain-boosting Gingko Biloba supplement sold in every health store near you is not effective at upping your memory or preventing Alzheimer’s? In fact, you’re much more likely to improve your memory if you just exercise regularly. So, how about we stop crushing up and popping those leaves and go for a run?

My hope is that someday when DC residents take that run they won’t have to come home and wipe the stink off the bottom of the souls of their shoes.


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