Tree Project: Ginkgo and Chinaberry

When I decided to start my tree project, I never envisioned how difficult it would be to find suitable trees. For the project to be successful, there are several things that must be taken into consideration. The trees need to be accessible. I need to be able to get close to them so that I can get a more intimate look at their details. To spark sufficient interest, the trees need to go through noticeable changes over the course of a year. For example, a deciduous tree will experience more changes than a coniferous one. The surroundings of the trees are also crucial. They should be attractive or at least neutral. The view should be unobstructed. I will need a nice spot in close proximity where I can sit down and set up for sketching.

After searching for several days, I finally came across a little ginkgo tree (ginkgo biloba) and a Chinaberry tree (melia azedarach) which happen to be side by side. Both trees are located inside the stable yards of Middleton Place, one of my favorite places. These trees don’t meet all of the requirements in that they are not completely unobstructed, but I chose them anyway.

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The ginkgo tree is native to China. Its leaves are turning vibrantly golden this time of the year. I love their distinct shape and, for that reason, have used them in printmaking before. The ginkgo tree which I am now following is around 30 years old. Ginkgos are dioeciously, meaning there are male and female varieties. The tree I selected is male. Male trees will not get any blossoms. People who work in the Middleton Place stable yard are glad for it, because Ginkgo blossoms are rather odorous.Image

Up until now, I never heard of Chinaberry trees before. Though I walked by this tree many times in the past, it is interesting how it never caught my attention before. As added benefit, my tree project seems to teach me to become more mindful. I looked up ‘Chinaberry tree’ in Wikipedia and this is what is says about its origin: [The Chinaberry] is a species of deciduous tree in the mahogany family, meliaceae that is native to Pakistan, India, Indochina, Southeast Asia and Australia. Currently, the Chinaberry tree at Middleton Place is completely leafless. All it has is berries and galls.Image

As I was admiring the Chinaberry tree for the first time, I had the good fortune to run into Bob, a historian with an expanded knowledge of the area’s botany. Bob told me that at first the berries on the tree are hard, but the late fall weather conditions will soften them. As soon as the berries are soft enough, birds will swarm the tree for an intoxicating feast that will probably last no longer than two days. Then the tree will be completely stripped of all of its fruit. Only the galls will remain. A word of caution: The berries are only intoxicating to birds, but they are poisonous to humans. I don’t want to jump ahead in my project, but I think we can expect small, fragrant flowers on this tree in spring.Image

According to Wikipedia, galls are abnormal outgrowths of plant tissues and can be caused by various parasites, from fungi and bacteria, to insects and mites.Image

One of the reasons why I chose the little ginkgo tree and Chinaberry tree is that they are sure to have plenty of visitors. There are ducks, geese, cats, horses, peacocks, Ginny birds and, occasionally, sheep around. Right opposite the trees is a potter’s shop with a bench in front of it.

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This hair, that I found hanging off the ginkgo tree at eye level, holds a mysterious story. Who may it belong to? Who visited this tree? Perhaps I will find the answer during the course of this year-long project.

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