Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Tree of Fire

There is this tree in town that each fall for a short time becomes ablaze with the spectacular color of vibrant amber as it prepares for it winter hibernation. Although its a bit off my beaten path I always try to get by each fall to have a look before all of the leaves have fallen to the ground. For the last several years the owners and caretakers of the tree, Wiley and Betty Avery have given us all an extra chance to see the beauty of this magnificent tree by illuminating it with spotlights after sundown; in fact the tree can be seen from several blocks away during this time and could be mistaken for a fire burning wildly out of control, but in reality its only a Ginkgo tree (not to be confused with “Gecko” the little green lizard we always see selling insurance on television).

The tree has become sort of a local tourist attraction during the fall of year. People love to have their picture made by the tree. Betty has a rather large collection of photographs with children posing under the tree. A neighbor once even ate some of the leaves since Ginkgo leaves are reputed to have healing properties. It is an well established part of Asian medicine, and has recently received attention in the U.S. as an herbal remedy that may improve mental functioning.

A few years ago Mr. Wiley and his son Kenny measured the tree at 36 feet tall and 17 feet wide. If the tree continues to grow at its current rate the Avery’s are going to have to soon move the house back. Ginkgo’s can grow 50-80 feet or more in height; and at maturity the width may exceed its height. Betty confessed to me privately that unknown to Wiley she trims the lower branches of the tree each spring to allow for the car to get into the driveway.

The Avery’s got their tree as a sapling in 1993 from their son Kenny. For the first several years after planting the tree didn’t amount to much, some neighbors even asked them why they had a puny little dead twig stuck out in the middle of their front yard, but once the tree got root, away it went. Now its a front yard full.

The Ginkgo is also refereed to as a Maidenhair Tree, it is truly unique in that it has no close living relatives. For centuries it was thought to be extinct in the wild, but is now known to grow wild in at least two small areas in Zhejiang province in eastern China , in the Tian Mu Shan Reserve.

During autumn, the leaves turn a bright yellow. A noteworthy attribute of the ginkgo is the speed with which it sheds its leaves during the Fall. Once the ginkgo’s leaves begin to fall, they typically go very quickly (within a couple of days). You’ll notice a few stray leaves starting to drift down one day and the next morning you may find the entire lawn a carpet of yellow. A combination of insect and disease resistance, along with the ability to form aerial roots and sprouts means that ginkgos are very long-lived, with some specimens claiming to be more than 2,500 years old.

As for me fall has always been my favorite season of the year, I look forward to the crisp cool starlit nights, football games, crackling outdoor campfires and for God’s paint brush to paint a picture of fall sometimes too beautiful to believe. The “Tree of Fire” is truly a ‘living’ local landmark, hopefully for many more years to come. Thanks to the Avery’s for sharing it with us all.