Leaves Of Language.

001Gingko trees are distinctive even in the full green of summer but become even more so when the fall turns their leaves bright yellow. And they’re even more distinctive if they’re female gingko trees and drop smelly mushy tasteless (yeah, I couldn’t resist tasting some) fruits on the sidewalk that get on your shoes. That’s why I love them.

Recently I also learned the word marcescent. A leaf which is dead or dying but still clings to the tree is marcescent. It means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Of a part of a plant: withering but not falling off.”

A few years ago gingko was promoted as an herbal supplement that could make you smarter. I’m not sure whether it’s supposed to be the leaves. Maybe it’s the fruit. I’ve been smart enough never to try one again. That reminds me of a joke: a city kid and a country kid are walking through the forest and find a pile of rabbit pellets.

“What are those?” asks the city kid.

“They’re smart pills,” says the country kid.

The city kid picks up a handful and pops them in his mouth and says, “These taste like shit!”

The country kid says, “See? You’re gettin’ smarter already.”

The idea that gingko can make you smarter seems to have withered, but I hope you feel smarter for now knowing the word marcescent.

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  1. Margot

    Gingko leaves must have other special properties or meaning, since they show up so much in art and the leaf shaped earrings are so popular. They always remind me of Frank Lloyd Wright because there is a big Gingko tree in front of his home and studio in Oak Park, IL.

    You were either very brave or very stupid to eat the Gingko fruit—rumor has it it smells like dog poop. And you like that it sticks to your shoes? Hmmm…very interesting.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s fascinating that there’s a gingko tree outside of Wright’s studio. There’s one not far from my office that’s more than a century old and several others nearby, including one that was dropping fruit about a month ago. A lot of the fruits are still piled up on the sidewalk. They don’t smell like dog poop. It’s more of a peculiar slightly sweet, slightly funky smell that really defies description.
      I love the leaves because they look so primitive, as though they’re from a time when trees were only just learning to make leaves.
      And I should have clarified that I don’t like it sticking to my shoes. When it sticks to other peoples’ shoes, though, that’s hilarious.

  2. kdcol

    I do feel smarter now, thank you. I just gotta figure out how to use the fancy word when talking to co-workers so I’ll look especially smart. Pretty sure I’d mess up the pronunciation though.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      This is really a good time of year for it because it seems like there are a lot of dead leaves still clinging to the trees.
      And the beauty of such an obscure word is you can mispronounce it and no one’ll notice.

  3. Spoken Like A True Nut

    My high school had a female ginkgo tree hidden away in one of the most remote corners of the grounds. One year our smirking biology teacher took us on a mini field trip over to see it after the fruit had begun to fall.

    That was the day we all learned why it was kept so far away.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      My nose must not be that sensitive, or they have different levels of funkiness–sort of like people. When I lived in Indiana I walked by one on a main road that I think should have been declared a public nuisance. It wasn’t the smell but the amount of fruit it dropped in the street must have caused cars to skid.

  4. Maria F.

    Thanks so much for mentioning the term “marcescence”, I added it to the glossary I had on my blog. Great post, I love how you tie everything together as you write. I write poetry (I’m in hiatus now), but essays are indeed very tricky for me, and I haven’t attempted to write one yet, or maybe I wrote one when I was younger but didn’t do so anymore. The Monty Python video is great!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s interesting to me that you write poetry. I used to write poetry and still enjoy reading it but as far as writing prose is really where my heart lies. But I think poetry taught me how to tie things together because it relies so much on layered meanings.

  5. Ann Koplow

    I always feel smarter when I read your posts, Chris.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s wonderful to hear. If you feel smarter then I believe I’ve accomplished my goal of sharing what I know without being pedantic.


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