The Ginkgo biloba tree that stands in front of Dickinson’s Biddle House, facing West High Street, fits beautifully into the specifically designed landscape around it. It expands cleanly and vastly in the area that it takes up. The branches are uniform, mostly straight, with almost no errors—there nothing that would reach down and touch you while walking. There are round, healing spots where the tree has been maintained to remain aesthetically and functionally pleasing. The branches don’t start until roughly six feet above the trunk. On the side of the building, a large branch reaches to halfway to the other side, and is supported by a suspension cable to keep it from drooping or falling. The ginkgo is eighty-two feet in height, sixty inches in diameter, and is estimated to be aged between 90 and 100 years old. That would put its year of planting between 1905 and 1915.
The featured image, pulled from Dickinson College’s online Archives and Special Collections, was taken circa 1900, and although it isn’t completely certain whether the branches peeking from the right side of the image are those of the Ginkgo, it appears to be so. Taking into consideration the location of the tree now, and comparing it to this photo, it would make sense that the branches pictured are those of the present day Ginkgo tree. If so, that puts the tree at the age of 115 years! This seems to be the only photo of Biddle House taken around the estimated time of the tree’s origin. The tree is male, and according to Dickinson College arborist Mark Scott, is in very good health. It’s counterpart, a female ginkgo, resides on the other side of campus, between Old West and East College buildings. A distinct feature of the ginkgo that sets it apart from other trees is its incredibly short foliage period. Within 24-48 hours, all the leaves turn yellow and promptly fall off in unison.
The ginkgo is a beautiful tree, and although it is right in the middle of our modern world (positioned right next to the road and growing amidst some of the most frequented buildings on campus) it evokes a feeling of long ago. The ginkgo tree has been referred to as a living fossil, having been around since the dinosaurs. Aldo Leopold would likely agree, this tree has a history. Not only as an individual-starting from a seedling at a time when many homes still didn’t have electricity, and being present for the rapid expansion of the technological age- but also as a species, surviving and evolving for millennia without much variation from its original, ancient self. Ginkgo biloba are resilient, honorable trees.