Leslie Featherly owns Wilderness Road Quilt Co. at 215 W. Main St. She said it is the second season in a row she has had to contend with the stench and mess caused by what appears to be the most productive tree on the street.
Featherly said she and other employees have swept away the fruit as it falls but can’t keep up with what happens overnight and when they get busy. Her customers have started to draw some unpleasant conclusions.
“I have had customers come in and ask if there was a problem with the sewer around here,” Featherly said. “Other people have asked if it was trash. For every person who asks, you know there are probably 10 who just think the store or the street are disgusting. I have been tempted to put up a sign explaining what is going on.”
David Everman, who works in the Ad Mart office next door to Featherly, typically takes his two breaks during the day on a bench a few feet from the tree. He said the smell has made that impossible and some of the fruit has gotten on deliveries that in turn brought the stench into the back of his office.
William Fountain, a horticulture professor in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, was among those consulted about choosing the trees when they were planted in the mid-1990s.
At the time, the existing Littleleaf Lindens had become infested with Japanese beetles and the roots had begun to damage the sidewalks. Fountain said ginkgos were among the varieties he recommended because of their resistance to disease and insects.
According to Fountain, what is happening now is not a change in sex, which has not been documented in ginkgos, but instead is the result of improper handling of a complex grafting process that takes place in the nursery.
Unlike most other plants, Fountain said ginkgos are dioecious, meaning they produce either male flowers or female flowers. Ginkgos raised from seed have 50-50 odds of being a fruit-producing female, he said.
To ensure a male tree, nurseries use a grafting process. Fountain believes when the city chose the low bid, it may have placed an order for trees that were not properly grafted.
When the trees are still saplings, Fountain said it is a common practice for nurseries to take a bud or small branch, called a scion, from a tree that is known to be a male. This scion is grafted onto the seedling that could be either a male or female.
The scion, known to be a male, is allowed to grow while the seedling of unknown gender is removed.
“At least, this is the way it is suppose to happen,” Fountain said. “Apparently the scion either died or was accidentally removed and the seedling unfortunately turned out to be a female tree. It can take 20 years or longer for a ginkgo to reach maturity and begin flowering.”
Spray or replace?
Fountain said the city now has two options.
One would be to spray the trees with a chemical called Florel that produces a hormone-releasing chemical, stopping fruit production.
Fountain said this is a tricky and often messy undertaking that must be completed in the two- or three-day window when the tree begins to flower. It requires almost constant monitoring of the trees when leaves start to sprout.
The second option, which Fountain said he would recommend, would be removing the trees altogether.
“I would recommend biting the bullet and replanting with something else,” Fountain said. “It will not be very popular, but every year you don’t do it, you will probably regret it.”
When Wagner appeared Monday night before the City Commission, most of the commissioners appeared willing to look into the chemical option but not take the more drastic step of starting from scratch with the trees.
City Manager Paul Stansbury said he will try to allocate more manpower to the area while the trees are dropping fruit.
Featherly said she has been trying to get help since last year, however, and would rather see the trees gone.