Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Ginkgo Biloba

© Goethe Museum, Düsseldorf

I had to put this poem on my blog, because it is really beautiful. My mum found it online and showed it to me, knowing that I would like it very much. The poem was written by Goethe - a German poet, scientist, botanist and philosopher. He dedicated the poem below to his former lover Marianne von Willemer. The Ginkgo leaf symbolizes Goethe's theme, one and double. The Ginkgo tree that was Goethe's inspiration to write the poem in 1815, grew in Heidelberg, Germany. On the picture below you see the poem in Goethe's original handwriting.

© Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery

The twig inside this herbarium sheet is 210 years old. We believe that Sir John St. Aubyn (1758-1839) collected this branch. The tree species would have been relatively new to St. Aubyn, as the tree had only been introduced to England from China a few decades before this specimen was collected.

Ginkgos are large trees from China and they can reach a height of 20 to 35 metres. Ginkgo biloba is called a ‘silver apricot’ by the Chinese and is a living fossil. Its closest relatives can be found in fossils dating back to 270 million years ago.

Ginkgo trees are incredibly enduring and have been planted in towns and cities because they can grow even in the most polluted of places. An extreme example of this trees tenacity can be seen in Hiroshima, Japan, where four trees growing 1 to 2 kilometres from the 1945 atom bomb explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast. While almost all other living things in the area were destroyed, the Ginkgo trees survived and are still alive to this day.


  1. Hi Jess
    I'm not great at the German language...any chance of a translation of the poem into English.

  2. This leaf from a tree in the East,
    Has been given to my garden.
    It reveals a certain secret,
    Which pleases me and thoughtful people.

    Does it represent One living creature
    Which has divided itself?
    Or are these Two, which have decided,
    That they should be as One?

    To reply to such a Question,
    I found the right answer:
    Do you notice in my songs and verses
    That I am One and Two?