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The Most Strikingly Beautiful Leaves of the Season Are Almost Here

Hold your nose but fire up your Instagram: It's the golden ginkgo leaf drop

Ginkgo trees in Logan Circle. Photograph by iStock, Tim Brown

Leaf peepers needn’t drive to the Shenandoah for one of the prettiest autumn moments: the falling of the ginkgo leaves. Each year, the  native Chinese tree turn a glorious gold and drop their leaves in unison—typically in mid to late October when temperatures fall, according to National Arboretum horticulturalist George Waters.

But first, the bad news (besides the stinky fruit): the ginkgo drop may not be as dramatic as in past seasons. Waters says ginkoes at the arboretum have been slow to change color during due to the unusually warm fall weather, and the recent draught has caused some ginkgo leaves to brown and fall off because the trees are “stressed.” But that’s not to say you won’t get your golden hour on a gingko-lined street.

“It depends on the placement—irrigated yards may do better. Some here that were growing in a place that was naturally moist, the colors are doing well,” says Waters. With the cooling temperatures, he estimates the leaves may fall in the next week to 10 days.

So where should you go for peak ginkgo? In addition to the National Arboretum, which keeps a small grove of ginkgoes near the herb garden and Capitol Columns, certain DC streets are known for their golden hues. Swann Street, Northwest and Orleans Place, Northeast are well documented for their spectacular ginkgo drops, which coat the roadway in golden leaves. Streets around photo-ready Georgetown are another. If you’re up for a 70 mile drive from DC, the Ginkgo Grove at Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce, Virginia boasts over 300 trees and is one of the largest public ginkgo groves in America. If you’re homebound, check out this virtual ginkgo seminar from Blandy/University of Virginia faculty.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.