Urban trees as social triggers: The case of the Ginkgo biloba specimen in Tallinn, Estonia


  • Riin Magnus Department of Semiotics University of Tartu Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Heldur Sander




urban greenery, cultural memory, human-plant interactions, Ginkgo biloba, cultural space


Urban trees are considered to be essential and integral to urban environments, to contribute to the biodiversity of cities as well as to the well-being of their inhabitants. In addition, urban trees may also serve as living memorials, helping to remember major social eruptions and to cement continuity with the past, but also as social disruptors that can induce clashes between different ideals of culture. In this paper, we focus on a specific case, a Ginkgo biloba specimen growing at Süda Street in the centre of Tallinn, in order to demonstrate how the shifts in the meaning attributed to a non-human organism can shape cultural memory and underlie social confrontations. Integrating an ecosemiotic approach to human-non-human interactions with Juri Lotman’s approach to cultural memory and cultural space, we point out how non-human organisms can delimit cultural space at different times and how the ideal of culture is shaped by different ways of incorporating or other species in the human cultural ideal or excluding them from it.


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How to Cite

Magnus, R., & Sander, H. (2019). Urban trees as social triggers: The case of the Ginkgo biloba specimen in Tallinn, Estonia. Sign Systems Studies, 47(1/2), 234–256. https://doi.org/10.12697/SSS.2019.47.1-2.09

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