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Christopher Burns Christopher Burns
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Living fossil on Central Street

August 1, 2013
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It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how many times I may walk down the same streets, I can still miss amazing sights. 

The other day while waiting to cross the road on Central Street, a small sign caught my attention. It was stuck in the ground at the base of a skinny tree, one I have passed several times. Curious, I took a closer look. And I was quite surprised by what I found.

Apparently this small tree on Central Street across from the UMMA is a living fossil with distinct relatives going back 270 million years. The tree is a young ginkgo biloba, a native of the Asian continent and mostly extinct in the wild. Most remaining specimens are found in Buddhist monasteries throughout Asia. Some patches of wild ginkgo biloba have been found in central China and the Tibetan plateau, but extensive study has led many to believe that the trees in these groups were preserved for generations by monks who planted and cultivated them.

What is remarkable about the species is their strength. They have proved to be very adept, and some are believed to be more than 1,500 years old. In fact, there are ginkgos that grew around Hiroshima which survived the atomic blast in 1945. Though the trees were badly scarred by the blast, new growth continued and they recovered. Those same trees can still be seen in Hiroshima today.

Parts of the tree have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes. The seeds have been used in vegetarian dishes like Buddha's delight. And extracts have been used for memory enhancement and to help curb the effects of dementia.

Had it not been for the sign placed by the tree I may have never known its true identity. While the city is changing constantly around this tree, it will no doubt root itself deep into the city. Perhaps, with relatives that were advanced in age before the American Revolution, it will outlast Bangor.

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