Selma’s touch of historic colorPublished 8:52pm Friday, November 19, 2010
For well over a century the spectacular Gingko has excited the admiration as well as the curiosity of all who notice and admire its fall dress. Appearing after a short-lived cold snap sends temperatures plunging in late October and seasonal rains falling in early November, it dons its autumn dress in the company of Selma’s urban forest, straight from nature’s colorful palette. So it happens each year.
In the wake of a short-lived cold snap and more than three inches of welcome rain, the gold and scarlet of the graceful maples are blazing from the street corners of Old Selma. In crimson and orange the delicate dogwoods lift their branches beneath the sturdy Live Oaks. Next, blending in a harmonious color symphony of russet and purple appear the sweet gum and the crepe myrtles. And peeking through the glossy green of Southern magnolia and live oaks one will catch a sunlit glimpse of brilliant yellow tracing the symmetrical branches of the exotic Gingko.
Brought here by a Chinese missionary in 1879, Selma’s first Gingko tree was planted in the courtyard of a cotton warehouse at Lawrence Street and Water Avenue. The tree grew to a 100 feet in height and as it grew, it became famous, making the popular “Strange As It May Seem” nationally syndicated column several decades ago.
The Gingko species is older than any other native growing tree in America and Asia. It was annihilated in America during the glacial age, so the modern species are imports from China, where it is a sacred good luck tree and no evil may touch it. Almost as old as time itself, the original Gingko no longer exists anywhere in the world except in a wild state. Fossil remains almost identical with the species have been discovered not only in America, where there is a petrified Gingko forest on the Columbia River, but also in Europe and Greenland.
It was first introduced into Holland from China in 1727, to England in 1754, and the United States in 1727, by William Hamilton, who set it in what is now Philadelphia’s Woodland Cemetery. The largest Gingko is said to be in Boston Public Garden.
During its years in the courtyard of Bernard Yaretzky’s cotton office, the tree produced a number of small seedlings, which were successfully transplanted all over Selma. Every Gingko in Selma has its origin in that tree.
The more familiar of the elegant Gingko in our city are at the New Live Oak Cemetery and the former Dunn Rest Home. In late autumn their beauty is revealed in its odd, fan-shaped leaves, which add a fern-like appearance, and in its orange, plum-like fruit. Incidentally, the fruit is a favorite in China and Japan, where it is made into jam and jelly. The single seed, called silver nut, is roasted and eaten.
I have never eaten the fruit of the Gingko, nor do I intend to; however, at a recent Holiday Festival I purchased, ate and enjoyed my first Kudzu jelly. To everything there is a season. Now let us enjoy the opening of Autumn 2010, which has been waiting in the wings to make its magnificent entrance.