The Ginkgo Tree’s Lesson

I think a lot about the ginkgo tree.  Don’t you?

This is one heck of an amazing specimen.  The most amazing thing about it, is that this species of tree has no close living relatives.  It’s one of a kind!  And even more amazing – it has been around for more than two-hundred and seventy million years!

This tree saw the Permian Era.  The Permian Era was when all land was massed into one huge continent, Pangaea.  That era ended in a catastrophic event that wiped out most all life on the planet… but not the ginkgo!

The tree then saw the Jurassic period, when Pangaea rifted apart and dinosaurs roamed the earth.  The tree saw the Cretaceous period, when Tyrannosaurus Rex was king.  And it has seen all eras since.  It survived the Ice Age.  It even survived in Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped.  It has withstood fires, and it is not susceptible to pest infestations.  This tree is one tough cookie!

Today the ginkgo lines many city streets and brings shade and beauty to us humans.

It can live to three thousand years!  Its leaves are distinctively fan-shaped, and when it’s time for them to fall, they do so all together in one, short dump.  Here one day – boom – gone the next!

The tree was first found in China, and Confucius is said to have spent hours reading and writing beneath it.  Now, we are in a world that venerates the young and the new.

Perhaps we should attend to ancient Chinese culture, in which the ginkgo surely played an important part.  Perhaps we should pay more attention to what we can learn from older people, plants, and animals.  We could listen to their stories.  Old souls, mountains, rivers, and forests contain miraculous beauties, like the ginkgo tree, that hold much wisdom for us.

Professor Peter Crane of Yale recently wrote the book, Ginkgo, which he describes as a biography of a tree.  In an interview with Yale environment 360, Professor Crane notes that a lesson of the gingko tree is that we should take the long view, as we think about our relationship to the natural world.  We are not the center of the universe, he reminds us.  Some organisms have been here for a really long time, and we have not.

But while we are here, we have a great blessing to Notice: the amazing ginkgo tree.  The tree is tough, resilient, beautiful, and gives back to society.  Now there’s a lesson for living.


This Noticing just cries out for a conversation with a teenager.  Do they agree that toughness, resiliency, beauty, and giving back are what we should strive for?  What do these words mean to you?  What do they mean to your teen?  For example, beauty to an adult may refer to a beautiful heart or soul.  Is the teen fixated on their face, or muscles, or weight?  Are there other things that they believe they should strive for to have a full life?