Ginkgo biloba sapling in the Rotary’s Friendship Garden. RoundTable photo  

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Announcements of the dedication referred to the honoree as a “sapling.” But less than a foot tall and leafless, it looked unimposing and vulnerable in the cold November rain – like nothing more than a stick.

Members of the Rotary Club of Evanston and officials of Rotary International huddled beneath a tarp in the Rotary International Friendship Garden at the Ladd Arboretum on Nov. 11 to celebrate the significance of this slender twig. It had traveled from the other side of the earth to the Evanston garden.

Dick Peach, past president of the Rotary Club of Evanston and master of ceremonies for the day, told his fellow Rotarians the story of the sapling, which he and his wife, Shelley, had nurtured since picking it up at O’Hare airport in late spring and had planted in the garden in late October before cold weather set in.

The small tree originated in Hiroshima, Japan, where it was grown from the seed of a ginkgo tree that survived the atomic bomb that destroyed the city on Aug. 6, 1945.  

The parent ginkgo is one of the few survivor trees in the ancient Shukkeien garden, which dates to 1620. Measuring 13 feet in diameter and 56 feet tall, the tree is estimated to be 200 years old. It stood just less than a mile from the epicenter of the bomb, and the jolt left it leaning so precariously that it had to be pruned to keep it from falling.

The parent tree and five other Ginkgo bilobas were among the plants in the area around the epicenter to be examined in September 1945. Though situated near the blast center, they appeared to bud without being deformed and are alive today.

 According to the Green Legacy Hiroshima, some 170 trees in 55 locations within the roughly 1.2-mile radius of Hiroshima ground zero are officially registered by the Municipality of Hiroshima as A-bombed trees. The bomb effectively reduced the city to a radioactive desert; people predicted that nothing would grow there for 75 years.

Instead, seedlings began to spring up in the ruins within months of the bombing. In the 1950s Hiroshima requested the donation of trees for a Peace Boulevard and Peace Memorial Park and, heartened by the response from Japan and around the world, began a major greening effort that continues today.

The ginkgo sapling’s future was decided at a peace conference in Hiroshima in May. Sakuji Tanaka, nearing the end of his one-year term as president of Rotary International in Evanston, met Mr. Yamada there and told him about planting a tree to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rotary Garden soon after he arrived in Evanston.

The sapling and four others were sent to Evanston as “symbol[s] of peace and friendship,” said Hideko Yamada, one of the founding members of the three-year-old Green Legacy Hiroshima. The bundle of saplings avoided the typical six-month quarantine because they met the U.S. Department of Agriculture standards.

The Peaches replanted the saplings in individual pots and cared for them over the summer. Paul D’ Agostino, assistant director of Parks/Forestry, helped find a sunny place for the sapling near the entrance to the Friendship Garden. The fragile sapling, is now protected by a tall snow fence, is likely to grow a foot a year, says Mr. Peach.

As a ginkgo tree, sole survivor of an ancient group of trees older than dinosaurs, the sapling is expected to flourish in a garden Rotary calls “a living symbol of good will toward all people.”