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Noffke Class Follows Gingko Tree Tradition

Noffke with her Paleontology students at tree planting

If you see a gingko tree growing on a university campus, odds are that it is just outside the building housing the geological sciences department. It's a century-old tradition that now extends to Old Dominion University's Norfolk campus.

Nora Noffke, a geobiologist at ODU, hit upon the idea of planting a gingko tree near the Physical Sciences Building where the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences is located. She made it a project of her spring semester Paleontology course.

So, what does a gingko tree have in common with geological sciences and paleontology?

Two hundred million years or so ago, there were lots of gingko trees on Earth. Dinosaurs are believed to have dined on their leaves. But this tree, which has some odd botanical characteristics, almost disappeared from the planet, and today it is often referred to as a living fossil.

"For a long time, the gingko tree, which was first identified via the fossil record, was thought to be extinct. But at the beginning of the last century a group of gingkos was discovered by a Dutch explorer who was traveling in China," Noffke said.

Each year, the students in Noffke's Paleontology course are required to create a museum-quality display on a paleontological topic. This spring, the students chose to do their project on the evolution of plants. "In the context of this student project, we thought of the tradition worldwide that geoscientific departments have a gingko tree planted in front of their buildings," Noffke added. "This is how we can find a geological institute in a city."

So the class planted a 5-foot-tall gingko earlier this month on the east side of the Physical Sciences Building, not far from the pond with the footbridge.

The tree will grow close enough to the offices of College of Sciences faculty and administrators to bring up another point about this tree species. Some gingkos produce fruit that has a disgusting odor, and this has forced a few cities in the United States that planted the trees as ornamentals to cut them down. "We know about that," Noffke said. "The fruit and the odor are produced only by female trees. We planted a male gingko."

This article was posted on: April 11, 2011

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