Stinko Ginko!

Image - James Field, CC BY-SA 3.0 Image – James Field, CC BY-SA 3.0

We had a lovely weekend in Cambridge last weekend, staying over with a friend. We’d come up to attend a talk called  “Challenging the gender binary through science fiction and fantasy“, given by multiple Hugo Award winner Cheryl Morgan, and presented by Prof Farah Mendlesohn. Cheryl’s talk, which was part of Cambridge’s Festival Ideas, was an excellent introduction to how SF writers have approached gender issues, gender-variant and transgender people. I came away much better informed and had began to understand a little more. Cheryl is a good speaker, and Farah a very good moderator during the Q&A.

Before the talk we ate at Merhaba, a brilliant Turkish restaurant. If you’re in Cambridge, do go there. The food is outstanding, the portions substantial, and the service charming.

On the way out of the talk we passed by some Ginkgo biloba trees, the maidenhair tree. The leaves make it very recognisable and for me it is always nice to see as it is one of those relic species I find so fascinating. Ginkgo is the only survivor of a whole plant phylum. To put that in perspective, all animals with backbones (fish, amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, mammals etc) form a single animal phylum – the chordates. Ginkgo is a fully qualified survivor.

Ginkgo is also unusual in having separate sexes – the plants are male or female. If you see a tree it is almost always male. Female trees are rare in plantings because the fruit is meant to be very very smelly.

When I saw a Ginkgo with fruit I knew it was female, and I also wanted to find out just how smelly the fruit was. Some of the fruit had fallen, a quick sniff and  – augh! Imagine the strongest, ripest blue cheese and you are getting close! That was some stink.

I wondered if both sexes were planted here because it was at a university.




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