Cornell's beloved 170-year-old ginkgo tree badly damaged by derecho

The 85-foot tree stands outside the president's residence

A ginkgo tree sits Tuesday outside the president's house at Cornell College in Mount Vernon. The tree lost about half of
A ginkgo tree sits Tuesday outside the president’s house at Cornell College in Mount Vernon. The tree lost about half of its body during the Aug. 10 derecho storm. (Alexandra Skores/The Gazette)

MOUNT VERNON — A ginkgo tree outside the president’s house at Cornell College — older than the school itself — suffered a severe hit in last week’s derecho storm.

According to the Cornell Report, the college’s alumni magazine, at one time the 85-foot ginkgo was dubbed a “State Champion tree … the largest reported of (its) species in the State of Iowa” by the Iowa Conservation Commission.

The facilities team at Cornell believes the ginkgo lost about half its body in the storm. Tree experts will examine whether it can remain.

Jill Hawk, public relations director at Cornell, said that 10 companies currently are working to make repairs to campus. The college made the decision to delay the start of classes by two weeks, until Sept. 7.

“While the storm damaged more than 100 trees, many of which will need to be removed, several of our largest tree specimens appear, for now, to have minimal damage,” Hawk said. “That includes the massive cottonwood just in front of King Chapel and the white ash, which was #5 in the state in height before they stopped keeping track — just below the cottonwood on the hill. Also standing is the blue spruce that was the state’s third-largest tree of its kind, a huge knotted redbud, and a stand of four huge larch trees lining First Street in front of the Scott Alumni Center.”

The Cornell Report also said the ginkgo’s nickname, the maidenhair tree, sprouted the unusual myth surrounding this tree. As the myth goes, women combing their hair under the ginkgo on a moonlit night will have their wishes come true. And if they do so while using a mirror, they will see the face of their beloved in the mirror’s reflection.

“It’s heartbreaking to see a beloved tree — one that is older than the college itself and wonder whether it will survive,” Cornell President Jonathan Brand said Tuesday. “I can’t even imagine Cornell without it. This massive ginkgo, the largest in the state of Iowa, has proudly weathered every storm for 170 years on this Iowa Hilltop. Then to have its very existence compromised in under an hour — words can’t capture how I feel. That said, if there is a tree that will overcome this disaster, it will definitely be our ginkgo.”

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