A stink to love

Heather Calvert
Favorite Spot: Too many to pick one, but for this love note, Philly’s Ginkgo Trees

I Am: A freelance writer, nonprofit professional, wife/mom/friend/daughter/voter, public school parent, lover of Philly
Years in Philly: 22
Current Home: Cedar Park, West Philadelphia

A photo posted by Zoe Frederick (@zfrederick) on

My Love Note

Dear Philly Ginkgo Trees,

I love you.

It’s not easy for a tree to survive next to busy streets and crowded sidewalks, but you pull it off with flair. You probably never imagined back in the prehistoric times when you were getting munched by dinosaurs that one day you would be growing from squares cut in a sea of concrete surrounded by buildings, traffic, and people. But here you are in Philadelphia, one of the toughest street trees gracing city streets. You are a survivor and a beautiful one at that.

Okay, I know not everyone feels the same way that I do. And I admit, I didn’t love you at first; but in time, my love grew. You won me over flaws and all. I mean, this is not a time to be delicate about it; Ginkgo, you kind of stink sometimes. But I decided your stink is kind of great.

Your smelly berries remind me that it is fall…my favorite season. You stink the way the smell of skunk blowing through an open car window on a country road in summertime stinks—kind of deliciously. True, I don’t want to get too close when you are in full oestrus (you ARE kind of ripe); but a whiff emanating up from a sidewalk while I skip around your little dropped stink bombs reminds me to pay attention to the world around me.

But we don’t call them “puke berries” for nothing.

I remember years ago when a German friend came to dinner at my apartment on Pine Street and insisted on removing his shoes before coming inside since he had stepping in something smelly. “Oh” I asked, “Did you step in dog poop?” “No” he responded,” I fear it is wommit.” It took me a bit to translate it to “vomit” and then realize he must have walked along one of the double-lined Ginkgo streets that locals knowingly avoided each fall, coated with Ginkgo berry land-mines as it was. Poor German dude! But those memories are part of why I love you now. You are part of my Philly history.

It’s true that your stinky berry might not have the hearts of every Philadelphian; but if it is also true that if your Ginkgo Biloba berries really do have medicinal benefits and improve memory the way some think, you might win minds after all. I know that I am not your only admirer in this town; the elderly Asian men and women with their masks and gloves and plastic shopping bags that gather your berries to cook up the nuts at the heart of your odiferous pulp have an appreciation that rivals my own. My love is not all consuming; I don’t need to eat you to prove my affection. Besides, though your berries get all the attention this time of year, it is your leaves and branches that really hold my heart.

It is your fabulous fan-shaped leaves that I admire most. So pretty. They turn the palest green and then the brightest yellow before fluttering down like butterfly wings and decorating the sidewalks and streets, each resembling a piece of jewelry. And the way the leaves line your branches isn’t like other trees. They just kind of sprout along the length of every branch so that you don’t really look like the lollipop-shaped trees children draw or the triangular conifers people decorate with lights. You look a bit tentacled, Ginkgo. You are unique. It reminds me that—like me—you Ginkgo, are not originally from these parts. But also like me, Philadelphia is your North American home now.

Imported from China, you made your first appearance on this continent right here in Philadelphia grown by William Hamilton in 1784 at another one of my Philly faves, the Woodlands (http://www.phillylovenotes.com/love-note-113-edith-mulhern-writes-to-the-beautiful-historic-woodlands-cemetery/) in West Philly when men of means collected and competed over new plant specimens. And what a specimen you are! You don’t get as giant as the American sycamore (http:/ /www.phillylovenotes.com/love-note-104-nathaniel-popkin-choose-not-a-place-but-the-ubiquitous-american-sycamore-tree/) with their sidewalk-spilling trunks covered in peeling bark, but you are no slouch either. Capable of reaching 100 feet or more, you are majestic. You are a showy, complicated delight, Ginkgo, a living fossil gracing our city for 230 years. You are my favorite Philly tree.

I love you, Ginkgo.


A photo posted by Zoe Frederick (@zfrederick) on

Posted on by Emma Fried-Cassorla in West Philly Leave a comment

Add a Comment