Ginkgo biloba - The Leaves of Plant in Autumn
Maidenhair Tree - The Leaves of Plant in Autumn

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

The Gingko biloba or Maidenhair Tree, is an ancient plant in postmodern times.

It comes essentially unchanged straight from the Ice Age, and although it belongs to the Gymnosperms, it is the only broad leaf among them and even deciduous.

However, it does not claim a position among the exhibits of the Museums of Natural History but seeks its unhindered growth

in its natural econiches or through its cultivation even for ornamental purposes only.

We ‘ve got nothing but respect for this greate tree.

The shape of the leaves of Maidenhair Tree is unique in the whole plant kingdom.

Ginkgo biloba - The Leaves of Plant - © Jason Sharman, Vitalitree, Bugwood.org
Maidenhair Tree - The Leaves of Plant - © Jason Sharman, Vitalitree, Bugwood.org
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Maidenhair Tree Origin

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Map of Origin
Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Map of Origin

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

Maidenhair Tree Tree in Lawn
Maidenhair Tree Tree in Lawn

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Brief Description

Family: Ginkgoaceae

Genus: Ginkgo

Scientific Name: Ginkgo biloba L.

SynonymGinkgo macrophylla K.Koch

Common Names: Maidenhair Tree, Gingko, Ginkgo Tree, Fossil Tree, Icho

General Characteristics

Leaf Persistence

Deciduous

Form

Tree

Texture

Coarse

Growth Rate

Slow

Flowering Period (Northern Hemisphere)

Aprill – May

Fruiting Period

Fall – Winter

Height

15-23 to 50 m (50-75 to 165 ft)

Diameter

8-10 m (26-32 ft)

Shapes and Colours

Leaves Shape

Obovate, Bilobed

Foliage Colour

Green

Autumn Foliage Colour

Yellow

Flowers Shape

Catkins-like (M.)

Flowers Colour

Greenish-Yellow

Fruit (Integument)

Drupe-like, Creamy-Yellow

Plantation

Soil Type: Well-drained, sand, loam, clay

Exposure: Sun

Soil pH: 3,7-8

Watering: Low

Hardiness: −34 °C (−30 °F – USDA Hardiness zone 4a)

Uses

Specimen, shade, sidewalk, urban planting, bonsai

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

Maidenhair Tree in Full Growth
Maidenhair Tree in Full Growth

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Etymology

Etymology of the Genus Name

The name of the genus Ginkgo comes from the Chinese word 銀杏 / 银杏 i.e. yínxìng which is very easily attributed as gin = silver and kyo = apricot and even more easily translated into silver apricot. while In Japanese, the same simple word is pronounced as ginkyō.

But then, one might reasonably ask and wonder, why the genus is not called Yínxìng or Ginkyo?

The answer lies in the German naturalist and explorer Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716).

The Engelbert Kaempfer was the first from the West World who, during a mission funded by the Dutch East-India Company, saw the tree in Japan and in his book Amoenitatum exoticarum, published in 1712 , he recorded it, slightly wrongly, as Ginkgo.

This slightly wrong word was seen and read by the great Swedish systematic Charles Linnaeus, and he eventually used it to name the genus.

Etymology of the Species Name

The name of the species biloba is not a product of a slight or serious error: it is the Neo-Latin version of the Latin prefix bi, meaning two, and of the Latin word loba.

The word loba means pod, and comes from the Ancient Greek word λοβός (lobos), whose most distant origin is found in the same meaning of Proto-Indo-European root *leh₂b-, i.e.to hang loosely.

Therefore, the word biloba very accurately describes a key feature of the species, which is its unique two-lobed leaves.

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Origin & Life Span

Origin

The Ginkgo biloba has as its center of origin, various regions of southwestern and eastern China (Yangtze River valleys), at least since the Pleistocene period.

Its presence in Japan but also in some parts of Korea, although it claims to be an archaeophyte, but related research shows that its introduction to those places was made by man, about 2000 years ago.

Life Span

As unlikely as it may sound, a study of the vascular cambium RNA of trees has shown that Maidenhair Tree is theoretically immortal.

The researchers could not find any sign of programmed death and was unable to explain the lack of an aging or senescence mechanism.

It is more than obvious, that the results of the research did not deter the tree, which lives more than 1000 years, and which when it is tired of living, surrenders to the appetites of its enemies, pests and diseases, or to the harmful effect of nature and the destructive action of humans.

In Europe, the most elderly Ginkgo tree is about 260 years old, while in the Far East there are recorded cases of trees over 1000 years old, with a perimeter of 20 m, calculated at 1 m from the ground.

One of them is the famous Ginkgo of Sendai – a city located northeast of the Japanese capital – 1220 years old.

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Landscape Attributes

The typical Ginkgo biloba has usual a single straight trunk, from which develop branches that tend to rise, giving an almost upright appearance on the tree.

In youth, the canopy of the tree is sparse and open with irregular outline, but with maturity becomes dense and close, giving to Ginkgo biloba an oval-pyramid shape.

The tree is of slow growth rate, which results in reaching its final dimensions in a period ranging between 20 and 50 years.

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

Maidenhair Tree Male Flowers and Leaves - © Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org
Maidenhair Tree Male Flowers and Leaves - © Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Botanical Description

Roots

The Maidenhair Tree has two forms of roots: one form is the typical of all plants, and the other form, derived from the Ginkgo trees called Chi-Chi (or chichi), could be said to be a special form of aerial root – although in fact they are not exactly like that.

The typical root system of the plant is relatively primitive, simple, and small, which is particularly evident in older trees, and grows more in depth than near the soil surface.

Chi-Chi trees, on the other hand, show sprouting growths on tree trunks and branches, which are positive geotropics, and lead to the ground where forming typical roots, but they have also the ability to develop new lateral branches.

In addition, if cut and planted, they have the ability to reproduce asexual the tree, which emphasizes its regenerative and propagating ability.

Trunk

The trunk of Maidenhair Tree has large dimensions both in height and diameter – as mentioned above.

The young trees are covered with a thin grayish-brown bark, which is smooth, however, and here over time, the bark being scabrous and acquires grooves that become deeper with dark hues – brown to almost brown-black.

In trees over 50 years old, the bark is quite thick, as it is over 5 cm.

Branches & Twigs

In the young trees a central stem develops on which the leaves are spirally arranged. After three years, twigs, shoots and branches form in the place of each of the leaves.

The shoots are of two types, the long and the short shoots, which at a young age are rather smooth and have a light-gray or light brown color.

It often happens that in the old trees the long shoots stop growing. Then the transformation of short shoots into long shoots and their further growth can be observed, as they can bear leaves for many decades.

Leaves

The leaves of the tree, in many respects, are unique. Simple and large, developes alternate on the young stems or many together in short shoots of the branches, and their length ranges between 8 and 10 cm (3.1-3.9 in) and their width between 10 and 15 cm (3.9-5.9 in).

They have an obovoid shape and are divided into two distinct lobes – rarely in three – by a dichotomous vein, while the petiole is extremely long with a length of 7 to 8 cm (2.7-3.1 in).

Their color is glossy green during the growing period, but in autumn they get attractive golden-yellow hues.

In the event that the temperature drops too low, Ginkgo biloba can throw all its leaves on the same day.

Flowers

The Ginkgo biloba is a dioecious plant, although on rare occasions male and female flowers occur in the same tree.

The male flowers are short-stalked and catkin-like, and they grow from the axil of scale leaves on short shoots.

The female flowers grow on spurs up to 5 cm long, either individually in the axils of the leaves or in those of the topmost scale leaves. They are placed together on each one spur and are always a lot.

The tree enters in the reproductive phase from the age of 20 or more years.

Pollination

Pollination is carried out by the wind (anemophilous species). It is typical that the pollen is transported quite far, however in order for the pollination to be successful there must be a male tree within a radius of 1 to 2 kilometers from the females.

Fruit & Seeds

One of the many unique characteristics of Maidenhair Tree is the fact that the seed of the plant, 1.3-2.8 cm long and about 1.1-1.4 cm wide, is located in a Drupe-like protective tissue – integument, which looks like a fruit (1.5-3 cm x 1-2.4 cm), such as of angiosperms (but they are not, since gymnosperms do not produce fruit).

The integument on the outside is soft and fleshy (sarcotesta) and looks like resin, while its characteristic feature is that during maturation an extremely unpleasant odor emerges due to the presence of butyric acid.

The color of the "fruit" is initially green and when ripe light cream – yellow.

The abundantly produced "fruits" of Gingo biloba and the unpleasant odor that emerge is one of the main reasons that in gardening and landscape architecture are used mainly male trees.

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

Maidenhair Tree Fruits - © Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org
Maidenhair Tree Fruits - © Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Climate and Soil

Temperature

The Maidenhair Tree is a highly tolerant and adaptive plant within its natural range. A suitable climate for its development is that of temperate and subtropical areas, whose summer is cool without temperatures exceeding 40 °C (104 °F).

Compared to winter temperatures, the minimum range between -31 and -34 °C (-23.8 to -29.2 °F), but many times, if Maidenhair Tree established well in one place, it can withstand low temperatures up to -40 °C (-40 °F).

Soil and pH

In relation to the soil, Ginkgo biloba grows in almost all soil types except those that are permanently waterlogged.

However, It thrives in moist, deep and fertile sandy soils that have an acidic pH reaction.

Exposure

The Ginkgo biloba is always planted in full sun, although young plants can tolerate partial shade.

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Pests & Diseases

The adult Ginkgo biloba trees theoretically have no pests and disease problems – as if it were an intruder into the ecosystems where it develops its populations, or its friends and enemies pay tribute to the only representative of its genus, leaving it undisturbed.

Young trees – as well as the elderly – seem to be excluded from this overly noble attitude towards the natural world.

But especially for the former, it could be said that the seedlings of Maidenhair Tree can be a target for:

  • the snails
  • the slugs
  • the mice
  • the rats
  • and the rubbits

All of these pests – and each one separately – are likely to destroy the bark around the base of the seedlings by devouring it, and if this does happen it could lead to the young plants even dying.

Of course, with the use of appropriate preparations – without excluding the use of rifles and shotguns – the control of the above pests is very effective.

Other Pests

… And because in practice there are exceptions, the other pests of Maidenhair Tree are listed immediately below.

Various Insects
  • Acalolepta gingovora
  • Acalolepta sejuncta
  • Ceroplastes ceriferus
  • Dictyoploca japonica
  • Eriogyna pyretorum
  • Iceria purchasi
  • Lepidosaphes kuwacola
  • Omnivorous looper
  • Pammene ginkgoicola
  • Parlatoreopsis pyri
  • Pseudococcus comstoki
Nematodes
  • Criconemoides morgensis
  • Paratrichodorus porosus
  • Pratylenchus penetrans

By the use of appropriate insecticides, the insects treatment is from satisfactory to difficult, but nematodes, are very difficult to control.

Diseases

After the pests, the recording of all diseases follows.

Fungi
  • Neofusicoccum parvum
  • Phyllosticta ginkgo
Bacteria
  • Pseudomonas syringae
  • Xylella fastidiosa

By the use of appropriate fungicides, the treatment of the former is from satisfactory to difficult, while the bacterial infections of the plant are extremely difficult to control or impossible at all (Xylella fastidiosa).

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Toxicity & Allergenicity

Toxicity

The leaves of the tree contain phenol Ginkgolic acid, which is toxic, and can cause contact dermatitis. The seeds of the tree also contain the neurotoxin Ginkgotoxin (4′-O-methylpyridoxine), and since the seeds of the plant are used in various traditional Chinese and Japanese dishes, it is possible that excessive consumption can lead to:

  • Mild gastrointestinal irritation (diarrhea, flatulence, vomiting)
  • Allergic skin reactions (contact hypersensitivity reactions)
  • Epileptic seizures

The reason is that it is a heat-stable toxin that is not destroyed by cooking.

Allergenicity

The Maidenhair Tree, which shed large amounts of pollen carried by the wind, is characterized as a mild allergen. However, research conducted in South Korea indicates a cross-reactivity to the pollen of various other plant species.

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Varieties & Cultivars

Although it does not belong to the most popular ornamental species, however, several cultivars of Ginkgo biloba have been created with distinct foliage and size characteristics.

Ginkgo biloba Varieties

Some of the most important are:

  • Ginkgo biloba ‘Autumn Gold’
  • Ginkgo biloba ‘Fairmont’
  • Ginkgo biloba ‘Fastigiata’
  • Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’
  • Ginkgo biloba ‘Jade Butterflies’

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) - Use

The Maidenhair Tree belongs to that category of plants that are not only ornamental but also have great pharmacological as well as ethnobotany value.

Even for this plant, so many traditional uses and pharmacological properties make it almost obligatory for a special tribute exclusively to them as the main topic.

In brief, we will only mention here that Ginkgo biloba as an extract or in various other forms is used as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, as well as for the treatment of dementia.

Use in Garden and Landscape

The Ginkgo biloba is an extremely easy-to-grow tree, even in conditions of a particularly aggravated urban environment.

Once established, it is tolerant to drought, while in terms of frost and the presence of salt in the soil it does not encounter any problem, as well as to a large extent no problem encounter by pests and diseases.

Thus, it could be said in general that Ginkgo biloba is utilized:

  • Planted alone as a specimen
  • In private or public gardens and parks (provided that it has at its disposal at least 45 m3of soil, and shall be planted at a distance of at least 7 m from houses and buildings)
  • To create visually and functionally excellent tree lines
  • In combination with other plants, such as Burning Bushes (Euonymus alatus), Junipers (Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Pfitzeriana Glauca’), Sacred Bamboos (Nandina Domestica ‘Fire Power’), and White Dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’)

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), the Immortal Tree

When the Wind Blows

In addition to the above, Ginkgo biloba can be utilized in yet another unique way, which is none other than being the main "trunk" of the post-apocalyptic nuclear garden of the Day After – even if the day after it no longer exists either gardener, neither visitor, nor garden.

What's Up Back ?

By the dragging of censor the awe-inspiring Apocalypse shall come

Hiroshima (August 6, 1945)

The good thing is that there is no need for experiments or research to verify this tree’s potential.

This is because it is more than certain that When the Wind Blows the Maidenhair Tree does not face any problem at all, not even from its exposure to high radiation levels.

The 6 trees of the species that survived the dropping of the atomic bomb in the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, prove to be truthfull witnesses to this.

Trees that remain to this day, silent but also living observers of that form of barbarity, which is led by every distinct or indistinct hulking totalitarianism, inspired by the endless human foolishness.

One of Hiroshima's 6 Ginkgo biloba Historical Trees
One of Hiroshima's 6 Ginkgo biloba Historical Trees. It is called 'Hibakujumoku' ginkgo, which translates as "Atomic Bomb Survivor."

References

By Anne Clark with its song Our Darkness.

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