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Gingko trees on campus carry decades old traditions


It’s October and autumn is long underway. The air is crisp and trees that have had their leaves change and shift colors have started to shed them. Some trees, however, hold onto all of their leaves for much longer. The gingko tree holds fast to its leaves until the end of October to the start of November, when it will release them all on one day.  

These trees are recognizable by their fan-like leaves that turn a golden yellow in the fall. Though another memorable trait is the reeking smell, this trait only manifests in the fruits of the female trees and most, if not all, of the trees planted on campus are male. 

There are multiple ginkgo trees planted around campus, but the one located at James Hall is one of the biggest. Students can find other ginkgo trees at the Thompson School of Applied Science and near Hetzel Hall, along with a string of young ones near the Alumni Center.  

The gingko tree is responsible for a few traditions around campus. Students in James Hall may try to guess what day the gingko leaves on the tree right outside the main entrance will fall. Natural Resources Professor Peter Pekins recalls a leaf drop guessing raffle when he first attended UNH in 1978 where the prize was a canoe. In more recent years, the offerings have included gift cards and pizza. 

And if being able to watch the leaves as they fall isn’t lucky enough, catching the leaves of a ginkgo tree as they fall and before they touch the ground is supposed to give one good luck for the year. Because of the shape of their leaves, the pattern that they fall in can be erratic, making it difficult to catch.  

The gingko tree is native to China and is one of the oldest species of trees. There have been fossils found of its leaves dating back 270 million years, according to There are no other living relatives of the tree, making it truly unique. A single tree can live for upwards of 1,000 years, owing to its resistance to air pollution and resilient bark making it unfavorable for insect invaders.  

The day that the James Hall ginkgo tree loses its leaves has been tracked by the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment since 1977. According to a graph in an article in “The Atlantic” courtesy of UNH Professor of Natural Resources and the Environment Serita Frey, the tree has lost its leaves on a day anywhere between Oct. 24 and Nov. 9. 

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