The world’s most historic and distinctive trees:the ginkgo

Many of us can’t wait for the autumn show of the Ginkgo biloba (maidenhair tree), which tends to peak just before the buttery-yellow leaves fall all at once, as if they’d planned a dead-of-night drop and one of them said, “ready, set, go.” Considered a living fossil and one of the world’s most historic and distinctive trees, the ginkgo is also one of the most reliable and common street trees, from New York to London to Tokyo (it’s one of the most widely planted trees in Japan). Some people also appreciate the ginkgo’s culinary and medicinal uses or its inspiration to art and spirituality.

Then there’s Professor Sir Peter Crane, a botanist and evolutionary biologist at Yale University, who has taken ginkgo appreciation and study—and fandom—to new depths and lengths, literally around the globe. What he describes as his “multiyear obsession with this very special tree” has led to a book called Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot. It’s a serious scientific monograph, but hardly dry. It also reads like an unabashed fan letter to the ginkgo and a meditation on the relationship between plants and people. A sampling of chapter titles shows his range: Time, Energy, Sex, Origins, Persistence, Extinction, Reprieve, Gardens, Nuts, Streets, Pharmacy, Legacy.