ginkgo bioba temple

Gingko

Common name Ginkgo / Maidenhair Tree
Botanical name Ginkgo biloba
Family Ginkgoaeae
Natural range China – Japan
Mature height 15-25m
Form Medium-domed
Likes Cold weather & lots of water
Dislikes Drought, growing quickly
Where to plant Provide plenty of space and be patient
Known for Distinctive leaf shape & spectacular yellow autumn colour

A living fossil

The Ginkgo tree belongs to a genus of highly unusual non-flowering seed plants. Incredibly, these trees first appeared around 270 million years ago, making the Ginkgo a living fossil.

Very rare in the wild

These trees were once widespread across the world, but gradually retreated to a ‘botanical refuge’ in eastern China. For years there were rumours of a wild population in China – this has only been confirmed recently. They remain very rare in the wild.

Why is the Ginkgo tree so special?

Historically, these were associated with Buddhist temples, which is likely how they became established in Japan and Korea. One of the most spectacular modern examples is located at a temple in China. They are also well-known for their spectacular bright yellow autumn foliage colour and unique leaf shape. These days, the Ginkgo has become renowned its urban adaptability.

Urban tolerance

They can tolerate many urban conditions including heat, air pollution, salt, and confined spaces. And they establish easily, if very slowly.

Do Ginkgo trees grow slowly?

Ginkgo have an awkward ‘adolescent’ stage of around 0-80 years (!) during which they appear straggly, with thin foliage. It is not until around the 80-100 year mark that Ginkgos begin to assume their real character. When you can potentially grow to around 3000 years old, there’s not much that bothers you! This has seen Ginkgos become a popular street tree in many areas of the world, or a feature tree in parks. Perhaps the perfect example of ‘plant trees for the future’.

Medicinal uses

Ginkgo is also used medicinally in Asia; mainly the seeds, whereas the Ginkgo biloba that you buy in health food stores is an extract of the leaves. Somehow we have invented a new use in the West, rather than adopting the traditional methods from Asia. Two philosophies have emerged using different parts of the plant — the seeds in the East, and the leaves in the West.

Tree selection advice

If you’re considering planting your own Ginkgo, buyers should be aware of male vs female plants. The fruit of female trees produces a smell like ‘rotten meat or rancid butter’. For this reason, male trees are grown in nurseries for ornamental use.

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