Years from now, this will be a beautiful bonsai.
The leaves, although tiny, reveal the distinctive fan shape of a Ginkgo biloba, sometimes called a maidenhair tree. Ginkgo trees originated in the early Jurassic, and several species once grew around the world, but by two million years ago its range had shrunk to a small area of China and its diversity to one species. Now it grows around the world as a sturdy ornamental tree that can make a fine bonsai.
I have reached step four of a half-year-long process.
Step1. Gather seeds. This involves danger. Last fall, a ginkgo in the park behind my apartment building was dropping seeds: free bonsai starter kits! I decided to gather a few. But the seeds come inside a soft, yellowish, smelly sarcotesta, which is a fleshy, fruit-like coat. Smelly? I would describe it as reeking like putrid dog vomit. Worse, handling the caustic flesh might make your skin not merely stink but peel like a bad sunburn. I proceeded with caution and gloves, cleaned and washed the seeds, and in the end they looked like large pistachio nuts.
Step 2. Stratification. This takes months. The seeds needed to rest for the winter. I put them in damp dirt and stashed them first in the corner of a cold windowsill, then for a few months in the back of my refrigerator.
Step 3. Planting. This requires dirt and possibly some household trash. At the start of March, I planted the seeds in potting soil in ecologically friendly cups made from toilet paper tubes (accumulated before the Great Toilet Paper Panic). A month and a half later, I had healthy seedlings.
Step 4. Repotting. This is where we are now. The best-looking seedling has a new home. Water and sunshine can take it from here for a while.
Another interesting factoid about ginkgos is that they have no genes for senescence, or growing old. They literally do not know when to die. They eventually succumb to illness, injury, or a changing environment. Otherwise, they can thrive for hundreds of years and remain young. This tree might outlive me for a long, long time.