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The Restorative Power of Ginkgo Leaves

Hannah Richter is a lover of trees. She is also the author of an op-ed about keeping the fallen gingko leaves on our campus grounds. This golden carpet, as she writes, “provides the students of this university with joy, with rapture, and with a moment of pause in the daily torrent of academic work.”

Focal Pointe and  Grounds Services, who manage campus landscaping and grounds keeping, are in sync with the op-ed. “I completely share Hannah’s feelings and passion. Our landscape partner Focal Pointe has already planned to leave the leaves after they fall for as long as we can without turf damage. The primary area that we don’t clean up is Ginkgo Allée on the east side of Olin Library.” said Chris Anderson, Grounds & Landscape Design Manager.

Read Hannah’s full op-ed below.


A Plea for the Preservation of the Ginkgo Leaf Carpet

I write to you without a degree in the biology of urban greenspace, or experience with university landscaping. I know little of the horticultural goals and/or schedules of the Focal Pointe groundskeepers, but I write with the fervor of a heart deeply touched by the goings on of our campus’ rustling sentinels—our trees—to ask that the carpet of gold that results from the fall of the ginkgo leaves to be allowed to remain undisturbed for as long as possible.

Since the loss of the wall of oaks flanking Olin, and then the removal of more ancient oaks guiding visitors to the steps of Brookings Hall, I have been deeply concerned about the remaining ancients, specifically the ginkgo trees who reside between Eads and Cupples II. My attachment to these trees extends far beyond my position as a Nemerov Scholar, named aptly for Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov, who wrote extensively on those ginkgoes during his tenure here at WashU. I similarly set aside my title and bias as the Co-President of Outing Club, and all the empirical evidence suggesting that exposure to the natural world helps to reduce many forms of anxiety.

My case is intrinsic. It is about the solace our student body finds in the changing of the seasons, it is about what these leaves can offer us beyond the mere aesthetic.

Every year, at this critical moment in the academic calendar, it becomes increasingly necessary to put aside joys in life in service of the competing need to perform, the need to hole away and spend many a sleepless night in studious isolation. Yes, we are blessed with the rigor of our minds, but we must also supplement these pursuits with reminders that we exist beyond our midterm grades, we exist beyond our occupations and our research. It is at this time that the ginkgoes await the first hard frost, at which point, in the middle of the night, they consent to drop their golden bounty all at once (Can you imagine being there? Can you imagine standing at their epicenter when the long wait finds its way towards crescendo?)

I wish the ginkgo leaves could redress the onslaught of architectural Botox on this campus and beyond—the systematic erasure of the historical foundations of this city and its often bleak and sometimes beautiful past. So habitually do we rely on our environment to highlight the meaning in our lives here at school. We need reminders that the world here will continue after we graduate, that the seasons will roll onwards, that our lives will not culminate with montages of exams we might have done better on.

In 2011, the Arbor Day Foundation nationally recognized Wash U as a Tree Campus. Those of us who knew, were proud of that.

Last year in the fall of 2017, less than a week after “the consent” of fall of the golden canopy, I was alarmed by a jarring sound outside of my classroom. Our entire class rushed to the window, discovering that all that precious gold was being spirited away into the dark underbelly of a voracious gardening machine. We looked on in horror, devastated.

Now, in late October, I spot the beginnings of the gingko’s clandestine exchange; the fringes of their leaves have begun to hint at the royal endeavor. I feel a sense of urgency to have this plea heard, before the pigmentation spreads any further. My proposal is simple. For a few weeks, I suggest that the carpet of ginkgo leaves be left alone. They pose no threat to the grass beneath, which will have already slowed down in preparation for winter. They pose no danger to those who tread through their midst. With their quiet and splendid offering before the long freeze, they provide the students of this university with joy, with rapture, and with a moment of pause in the daily torrent of academic work. I speak for many when I say that we wish to preserve and for a while, revel in, this unprecedented voltage of gold.