Zadock Pratt Museum - "Millennium History Feature of the Month" 

Throughout the year 2000, we highlight interesting items from Prattsville history.  
This is Number 8 in our feature series.  

October 2000 - Prattsville ginkgo tree planted by Pratt in the 1820's

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The Zadock Pratt Ginkgo tree planted in 1825 

October 2000 Feature - by Muriel Pons, Prattsville Town Historian

The friends of the Zadock Pratt Museum are talking about their ginkgo tree these days.  It's the same "Ginkgo biloba" that is features in so many health articles.  But the Friends' interest is in the historic aspect of the ginkgo tree on the Museum grounds, not its herbal properties.

Although the general public may not be aware of it, the ginkgo tree is not a recent addition to the Museum site.  Not long after Zadock Pratt built his house in 1824, which is now the Museum, he also planted the ginkgo tree.  Since Pratt's wide-ranging interests included foreign plants, he no doubt secured the young seedling from the Orient.

It now stands high above the adjacent supermarket property, on the right side of the Museum's Carriage House driveway.

The Pratt Ginkgo tree is about 175 years old, but that's hardly anything to a ginkgo.  In China today there are specimens 3,000 years old, and ginkgos have been cultivated for centuries in isolated temple gardens there.
Pratt's ginkgo tree marker
In the botanical world, ginkgo trees are the only survivors from the Ginkoacea family of plants, a group that stretches back about 200 million years or so.  As tree species go, it is a living dinosaur!

Aside from its longevity, the ginkgo tree is most noticeable for the shape of its leaves.  They are fan-shaped, and each has two lobes with a notch in between.  It is the two lobes which gives the tree its species name "biloba", meaning literally "two lobes".

The leaves have also been described as moth-shaped, and some have referred to the ginkgo species as the "duck-foot tree" because of the shape and weblike veining in the leaves.  Perhaps the best known alternative name over the years has been "maidenhair tree" from the way the leaves are supported on a spray of stems like floating maidenhair fern fronds.

Regardless of the creativity of the names, however, the leaves are almost everlasting once they fall to the ground.  They plaster themselves to every flat surface they may land on, a true gardener's raking nightmare.  Never-the-less, the foliage is one of the most attractive features of the ginkgo, and there are some varieties that have been developed for green, yellow, orange or mottled coloring in autumn.

The thick, ridge-covered, interlaced gray bark seems to have found no particular use to mankind, nor does the wood, except for handcrafting in China, and for firewood.

As for planting the trees for nursery purposes, American cities invested in young ginkgo trees to line streets in the last half-century or so.  They are free from insect pests and diseases, and grow fast in the first few years.  They also withstand air pollution.

Pratt Museum is dwarfed by the giant ginkgo tree










Our ginkgo tree is a male tree

In following this trend for street side beautification, most municipalities, including some in Greene County, have discovered the importance of answering the question, is it a male tree or a female tree ?

The reason is because the female trees, those with female flowers, produce a small plum-like fruit which drop from the tree all over the sidewalks.  Pedestrians then have to tramp through the slippery, foul-smelling mess.

The solution, of course, is to plant male trees, those with male flowers, in city or urban sidewalk conditions.  The catch is that the botanical sex of a ginkgo tress is not evident until it is about 20 years old, and as many feet tall.

Leaves in the female ginkgo on Main Street, Prattsville

Many female trees in urban settings usually end up getting removed once they begin littering the sidewalk with the ginkgo fruit.

Ironically, the roasted kernel of the plum-line fruit is an Oriental delicacy.  To those initiated to its flavor, the kernels would seem, perhaps, warrant enough to not destroy the females.

Park planners and estate dwellers who wish to leave a living botanical legacy often choose a ginkgo, as it is thought to be one of the finest "specimen" trees of the temperate zone.

Although gawky in the early years, it becomes a pleasing shape with age, somewhat columnar, and round-headed, with hanging branches.  As it matures, it grows more slowly, but the ginkgo can be 50-80 feet tall, with a canopy 30-40 feet wide.

The Pratt Gingko is about nine feet in circumference, and approximately 60 feet high.  In June 2000, Greene County Cornell Cooperative Extension Agent Bob Beyfuss took a boring in the trunk at the Museum's request, and found the tree to be well and still growing.

Pratt Museum President Janelle Maurer, in a recent newsletter, stressed the importance of recognizing the Pratt Ginkgo as a significant tree.

"We consider our ginkgo a vital part of Prattsville history", Maurer said.  Most local histories indicate that Zadock Pratt had a string interest in all aspects of horticulture, including the segments that would today be considered horticulture and silvaculture.

The Pratt Museum invites all to take a closer look at this living remnant from the life of Zadock Pratt when visiting the Museum.

Although younger ginkgos can be found on Main Street in Catskills, the large, ceremonial "specimen" ginkgos are at Kew gardens of London and the Temple Gardens in China.  

Isn't Prattsville handier?  Another large and tall, female gingko tree is just down Main Street Prattsville, at the Basil Becker house, shown on the right.

Call the Zadock Pratt Museum for information.  This story was first published in the Windham Journal on August 3, 2000.  Muriel Pons is the Town Historian on Prattsville and the former President of the Pratt Museum. 

The gingko tree at the Becker house, down Main Street from the Museum

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Updated on:
21 February, 2019

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