The Sex Life
of the Ginkgo

Rob Woutat


Whatever my other defects, my mother will testify that my morals had always been beyond reproach. Otherwise I could never have risen so quickly through the ranks to become chairman of our city’s prestigious League for Decency.

But all that changed when the ginkgoes came to town.

When Dutch elm disease invaded our neighborhood and the moribund elms were cut down and removed, ginkgoes were put in their place. I’d always thought the ginkgo was a kind of salamander, but when I looked into the matter I found that it’s actually a tree, imported from China in the 1700’s, and that it produces lovely little fan-shaped leaves that turn a glorious yellow in the fall. But what I read next gave me the shock of my exemplary life: “dioecioius; having separate sexes; having the male reproductive organs in one individual and the female in the other.”

One can imagine my disgust. I wasted no time in dictating the following letter to the mayor:

Your Honor:

This sex business has gone far enough. Everywhere we’re assaulted by dirty movies and books and sex education in the schools. Yesterday some dogs were behaving lewdly in my yard, and now it seems that even the trees are at it. I demand that you rip out these filthy ginkgoes and replace them with a god-fearing American tree that will be a better influence on our youth.

While waiting for a reply, I returned to my duties at the League, working on my campaign to require some sort of suitable attire for household pets.

One April evening however, while I was enjoying a piece of apple pie a la mode, I was struck by a curious question: How is it that trees, immobile as they are, and having nothing but trunks and branches and roots, can indulge in, well, in you-know-what? It was the pursuit of this question that caused the trouble.

Knowing how important this cause had become to me, the League graciously relieved me of my other duties so I could make a frontal attack on the menacing ginkgoes. The only way I could prove that these trees were an immoral influence in our neighborhood was to catch them in the act, so in the next few weeks I spent more and more time in my front yard, ostensibly cutting the grass and tending the flowers but constantly keeping the ginkgoes in the corner of my eye.

Looking back on it now, I can see that this was the period when my interest in the ginkgoes was turning into something altogether different. I wasn’t aware of it then, but while I was keeping a furtive eye on the sensuous young trees, my indignation slowly ebbed and was gradually replaced by an ungovernable urge that can only be called perverse. Before I knew what was happening, it seemed I had developed an irregular fascination with young trees.

To my mounting disappointment though nothing was happening in the front yard. The ginkgoes were staying exactly where they were. Their only provocations were suggestive, enticing movements of their limbs in a gentle breeze.

Maybe they’re shy, I thought. Maybe they’d rather not do it out here in broad daylight. Of course! These lovely, self-conscious little creatures must be lovers of the night. With that thought, I immediately inverted my daily routine and became nocturnal myself, peeping at the ginkgoes through the curtains at night, longing to enter vicariously into their most private moments.

It was at this point that the League for Decency relieved me of my post. How did they find me out? I don’t know. Maybe the neighbors tipped them off. Anyway, here I am. It’s 4:30 A.M. There’s a pot of coffee on the stove, and I’m going to wait here as long as it takes. Those voluptuous young ginkgoes can’t hold back forever.

TheScreamOnline regular Rob Woutat has contributed a wide variety of pieces to newspapers and magazines and to the National Public Radio affiliate in Seattle/Tacoma. He has written two family histories and a memoir and is now working on a novel. Please check the Talent Index to see his other work.
He can be reached at rwoutat[AT]
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