The season to harvest the fruit of the giant Ginkgo trees that Japan and especially Tokyo is so famous for has come. If you have spent any time under a ginkgo tree in the autumn you will recognize the squishy pale fruits that fall in great heaps from some of the trees, and the very peculiar odor that comes from the fruit as it starts rotting on the ground. In parks and along streets it is quite common to see people collecting the fallen fruit, while the flesh itself is poisonous, the seeds can be quite delicious when prepared correctly. While visiting the small Ganenji temple in Minoshi, a small city in Gifu prefecture I saw a smart method of collecting the fruit: just let them fall on a blue sheet spread out under the tree and collect them in buckets to let the flesh of the fruit rot and fall of by itself. While really tasty, the nut, called Ginnan in Japanese (銀杏), it is not too good to eat to much. My stomach never agrees to more than a handful of the nuts at a time, but I am sure some strong stomached people can eat more than that! Ginnan is one of those things you just have to try if you are in Japan in autumn or during the winter. I am sure you can also find the fruits in other countries, but unless you know how to prepare them they will probably just be a very smelly nuisance. Ginnan taste a bit like chest-nuts. I’ll write more about Minoshi and Gifu prefecture in a few days.
An unusually (for this year) sunny afternoon I took these two pictures of an Ginnan tree, known in English as Ginkgo. If you visit Tokyo you are likely to see this rather special tree around, and if you arrive at the right season, smell it. Ginkgo trees are together with the fish coelacanth the two absolutely best known examples of living fossils, animals or plants that by all right should not exist on Earth anymore. The last know relatives of this species died out in the Pliocene period. This tree’s seed come in the form of what looks like miniature apricots but smells more like something most humans do once a day… the seed contain a high degree of butyric acid. At least the female of the species. I am lucky enough to live in an area famous for these trees and once these seeds have been squashed to the ground a rather funky odor permeates the entire street. Rest assured that the trees planted near important government offices are all male.
Ginkgo trees grow tall 20-35m, and in autumn their leaves turn yellow and fall in a rather short period of time. The seed are, believe it or not, edible (and likely one of the few fruits on Earth to have been consumed both by dinosaurs and by humans. it is also an extremely strong species: if you have ever been to Hiroshima you will have seen the six Ginkgo trees that survived the atomic blast unharmed and are still alive and well. The seeds though, are of very little nutritional value, is complicated to prepare and smell rather badly with several documented negative side effects.