When a Ginkgo is No Longer a Ginkgo

Ginkgo Fall in Guerry Garth

Facebook: The University of the South

It finally happened. This past weekend the ginkgos on campus shed their leaves in the annual ritual Mary described in a post a few days ago, and it was everything she foretold that it would be. The golden-yellow leaves covered the ground in a sheet, adding a new lively shade to the browning grass struggling against fall and winter’s onslaught.

While flooding Guerry Garth and other sites around campus with the beauty of new color, many of these ginkgo leaves were destined for a fate much different than sitting on the ground, slowly fading and converting to organic matter or facing the fate of many of their compatriots, swept away by leafblowers, headed for the compost pile. If the leaves are not destined for the compost heap, what is to become of them? The answer may surprise you. They become roses.

Perhaps serendipitously, the falling of the ginkgos often closely corresponds with the timing of Lessons and Carols, Sewanee’s great celebration of the Advent season looking forward to Christmas. In preparation for this event All Saints Chapel is wholly transformed, decked in red and green in preparation for the great event. Pine, holly, hemlock, and a host of other evergreens comprise much of the decoration, but I have long been drawn to and fascinated with the golden roses adorning many of the displays.

Ginkgo in Arrangement This year I decided to get to the bottom of this botanical mystery and to find out what those golden lowers are. And so I walked into the chapel this morning, with the Greening of All Saints in full swing, and this is the scene I found before me:

Each of the hundreds of yellow roses adorning the chapel comes from the work of volunteers-students, professors, and community members, meticulously molding the fallen ginkgo leaves collected over the course of the week into a new floral form.

Ginkgo TableThere is something very fitting about the new form that the ginkgo leaves take on. Ginkgos, members of an ancient lineage of trees represent a giant step into the past when compared to most of our flora, roses included. And so as evolution made its course from a ginkgo like ancestor towards contemporary flowering plants, so are these ginkgo leaves taking on the form of their more recently evolved relatives.

And so, if you attend Lessons and Carols this weekend, try not to be completely mesmerized by the beauty of the choral program or awestruck by the sight of All Saints bathed in candlelight, but take the time to notice the greenery, especially those dashes of yellow given off by the ginkgo roses.

New Rose


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