Selma’s Gingko trees

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 12, 2005

Six years ago one of the earliest cold snaps on record paid a visit in October, sending temperatures plunging; then, early in November the seasonal rains came. One by one the trees of Selma’s urban forest (one of the finest in the Southeast) donned autumn dress straight from nature’s colorful palette.

Soon, almost any week now, the gold and scarlet of the graceful maples will blaze from the street corners of Old Selma. In crimson and orange the delicate dogwoods shall 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 Oaks, one will catch a sunlit glimpse of brilliant yellow tracing the symmetrical branches of the exotic Gingko.

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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 hundred 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. Watch for the opening of Autumn 2005, which is waiting in the wings to make its magnificent entrance.

And enjoy.