Say it with leaves: a gymnospermic romance


Happy Valentine Day everyone! We would like to give our biological slant on this romantic date. The Internet is ripe with dating techniques and romantic proposals, ranging from original to pure nonsense. Here we want to show you yet another way to communicate your love for someone: say it with leaves!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832) was a noted German writer and scientist. As a prominent meber of the Romantic movement, his vision influenced Biology to some extent (especially in continental Europe, the so-called Naturphilosophie). Amongst Goethe’s contributions to Biology there’s a theory of plant development, or the discovery of new bone.

Goethe's portrait
Portrait of Goethe by Joseph Stieler, 1828. Image taken from here.

In 1815, Goethe made use of the Ginkgo tree and leaves to express friendship and affection to his lover Marianne von Willemer (1784-1860). Goethe sent Marianne a Ginkgo leave as a symbol of friendship, and later on, a love poem in which he used the fan-shaped leaves of the Ginkgo tree as a metaphor (unity and duality… is it an incomplete separation, or the union of kindred spirits?). The Ginkgo leaves he pasted on the poem were collected from a Ginkgo tree Goethe showed to Marianne on the last day the saw each other (located in Heidelberg Castle, it is no longer standing).

Ginkgo biloba
The Ginkgo biloba poem, as send to Marianne by Goethe, with two Ginkgo leaves pasted. Image taken from here.

This leaf from a tree in the East,
Has been given to my garden.
It reveals a certain secret,
Which pleases me and thoughtful people.

Does it represent One living creature
Which has divided itself?
Or are these Two, which have decided,
That they should be as One?

To reply to such a Question,
I found the right answer:
Do you notice in my songs and verses
That I am One and Two?


Poema a las hojas del Ginkgo. La historia de amor de Goethe.

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