a big ginkgo tree with deep yellow leaves

Ginkgo trees nearly went extinct. Here’s how we saved these ‘living fossils.’

These ancient trees persisted for nearly 200 million years until they all but vanished. Now they line city streets.

A ginkgo tree in fall with bright yellow leaves. Unlike most trees, which gradually lose their leaves, ginkgos tend to lose them all at once.

Photograph by Werner Layer, Mauritius Images GmbH/Alamy

On the streets of Manhattan and Washington, D.C., in neighborhoods in Seoul and parks in Paris, ginkgo trees are gradually losing their bright yellow leaves in reaction to the first bout of frigid winter air.

This leaf drop, gradual at first, and then suddenly, carpets streets with golden, fan-shaped leaves every year. But around the world, scientists are documenting evidence of the event happening later and later, a possible indication of climate change.

“People would ask us, ‘When should I come out to see peak ginkgo color?’ and we would say the 21st of October,” says David Carr, the director of the University of Virginia’s Blandy Experimental Farm, which is home to The Ginkgo Grove, an arboretum with over

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