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Matt Laments Gingko Trees

by Prince Of Petworth December 1, 2008 at 11:00 am 25 Comments

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.

  • Lau

    Granted the fruit of the gingko tree smells like shit, quite literally. But aesthetically I really like them – particularly in the fall, when their leaves turn. For three years I lived on a street lined with gingkos, and the whole block would be a beautiful yellow for many weeks.

  • mjbrox

    UGH! THere is one near me that I parked under and those nasty little balls landed on my air intake vent causing my whole car to smell bad untill I picked them all out.

  • Anon5

    “It stinks, Its ugly, It requires birth control”

    At first I thought you were going to be talking about people from New Jersey.

  • Anne

    Our block is populated with gingkos. I’m told by a neighbor who spoke with a DC arborist (yes, there is one thanks to the Casey Foundation, I believe) that they changed their “birth control” methods this year and did not spray as they have done in the past. Whatever they have done has been a complete failure. The street is nasty with all the gingko bulbs and the stench is overpowering. But they have a certain grace if you just keep looking up.

  • I appreciate a rant as much as the next guy, but I’m alright with gingko trees. Here in the urban heat island, we can use all the canopy we can get. With sudden oak death, Asian longhorn beetle, latent Dutch elm disease, and many other tree pests all threatening, can’t we all give thanks for the hardy gingko? And the leaf shape is very pretty — I recently saw a piece of jewelry that was essentially an unadorned gingko leaf fashioned in gold — and looks nice in the fall (as noted). The scent of its fruit is a bit heady, but even urban life isn’t served up on a sterilized platter.

  • ColHeightsChic

    I love this story. We call them poo-poo trees. I’d never experienced a stench like that from a tree until I moved to DC. I always chalked it up to one of this city’s great mysteries, but now you’ve shed light on such a stinky situation.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah. Hate to disagree with the post as I see the humor but variety is the spice of life and I really like Ginkos. they give adams morgan a different feel than other neighborhoods and make me feel as if I may be in a different geographic local all together. they are just funky. but dont worry the wheels are in motion to basically give Adams Morgan a good white washing by eliminating the angled parking widening the sidewalks. no doubt with that horrid pebble surface that is now on the corner by adams mill. that stuff reminds me of something that would be in busch gardens. bleh. I am sure at that time they will get rid of the ginkos and plant something you find less offensive. But id rather the city find other ways to spend money than trying to make DC look like Clarendon

  • Adams Morgan

    The city no longer plants Ginkos.

  • Kalia

    Ginkos are great, Female Ginkos for decorative purposes however, are completely unecessary when the male trees are just fine. I went to VA Tech which also has a huge population of Ginkos-ALL Male. We once had female trees until a very rich and powerful alumni came down for a football game in his brand new (insert expensive car here) and smashed a ginko fruit on his shoe. Needless to say his new car was now a stinky car and he was none to pleased. Under his wrath Tech then removed all the females and we have the beauty of the the tree without the stink- maybe we just need Obama to step on one during his inauguration! ha.

    Anyways, that’s the story I heard in my Biology Lab when I was there…

  • bogfrog

    My impression is that trees are a “white people” issue

    60% of the neighbors on my block signed a petition to have the district remove all female gingko trees on the block. Now the block is denuded. I asked the “ringleader” of the tree-removal brigade if she was prepared to water new trees, if and when they are planted. She said, “I don’t really think they need watering, but I will say a prayer for rain.”

  • cocodleprechaun

    Yeh… its only the female trees silly…stinky stinky females

  • Chris in Eckington

    Ginko trees are one of the oldest type of tree on earth. This is one reason that they were planted. They’re survivors and can withstand polution better than others. The fruit is also eddible; they eat them in China and Japan.

  • ds

    The city and Casey Trees do still plant gingkos, but only males. When a female gingko is cut down they will replace it with a male.

    And while the stench and stickyness is unpleasant (try getting the stuff off your car after parking under a gingko for a while), I wouldn’t call them ugly trees. Their leaves are unique and the golden yellow they turn in October is fantastic.

  • Anonymous

    Thumbs up to the Gingko trees!

  • Wordwitch

    I LOVE GINGKOS!!!!!!!!!!!

  • C

    Boooo gingkos! Our little one way street in Shaw is littered with stink nasty stink bombs. According to a neighbor instead of spraying the trees this year they tried to inject them..well news flash it didnt work at all. Sure they may look real cool but after multiple months of tracking stink bombs into your house they lose all of their luster. Please DC dont ever plant anymore of these and dont try anything besides spraying.

  • So Long, Stink Tree

    Anon 11:54 is correct: the ginkos (and any other tree) on 18th St in AdMo are coming down within a year or two. Back-in parking will be eliminated in favor of parallel parking, and the sidewalks will be expanded to accommodate the weekend crowds. So we can expect those stinky ginky berries to be replaced with jumbo-slice crusts & plates soon.

  • We have them also on Quebec Pl…..
    I hardly ever use my front because of them, Id rather walk down the back alley. Most people walk in the middle of the street where the cars have cleared a path.

    I have grounded some into my carpet a many of times…. but, I would rather have them stinking up the place than no trees at all. Quebec still looks about the same as it did back in the late 70’s vs Quincy street around the corner that use to have large Elm and Oak trees creating a natural canopy down the block. Desease killed 90% of the trees on the block and it looks barren now.

  • yatrakarna

    Why don’t we have a Adams Morgon Ginko Fest and Cook Out. We could eat our way out of the stench.


  • amen to the ugly stick comment! best part of this whole story!

  • Anonymous

    Stink Bombs!!

  • Redhead

    I love Gingko trees. Smell and all. It would be sad to see them go. I don’t understand why they couldn’t continue to plant Male Gingkos. According to a friend who’s a landscape architecht until relatively recently they couldn’t determine the sex of a baby Gingko tree. Now that we can – let’s keep them going with male Gingkos in our city. Gingkos are gorgeous.

  • TheNeufIsOnFire

    My favorite part of this rant would be the line:
    “stink like a kick in the face”

    I think they smell like old cheese and have been curious what this mysterious “fruit” actually is. I’m just glad that the writer has use of his bathroom again and can thoroughly wash up before heading out to court ladies. Great guest appearance! Regardless of the trees, I still miss DC.

  • OliveOilforAll

    Whoever wrote this is a hilarious.

  • PetworthRes

    First of all, now you can buy gingko trees that are guaranteed to be male w/ no stinky fruit.
    Second, when mature they are a beautiful sight–especially in the fall. The blocks north of Columbia in Kalorama are amazing. Marion St. in Shaw is also beautiful.

    Gingkos are also some of the toughest trees around, and will survive where no other trees will. The trees on 18th St get some serious abuse, it’s amazing anything will grow there.


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