Curator’s Plant of the Month – November 2018

Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba is most commonly known as Ginkgo or Gingko it is also known as the Ginkgo tree or the Maidenhair tree. The Ginkgo is the only living species in the genus Ginkgophyta, all others are extinct, and it can be found in fossils dating back 270 million years.

Native to China the Ginkgo is widely cultivated and was introduced early to human history. It has various uses in medicine and is also food. Ginkgos are large trees, normally reaching a height of 20–35 m, with some specimens in China being over 50 m.

The tree has an angular crown and long erratic branches, and is usually deep rooted and resistant to wind and snow damage. Young trees are often tall and slender, and sparsely branched; the crown becomes broader as the tree ages. During autumn, the leaves turn a bright yellow, then fall, sometimes within a short space of time. A combination of resistance to disease, insect-resistant wood, and the ability to form aerial roots and sprouts makes Ginkgos long-lived, with some specimens claimed to be more than 2,500 years old.
Some of the Ginkgos planted around temples in China are believed to be over 1500 years old. The first record of Europeans encountering it is in 1690 in Japanese temple gardens, where the tree was seen by a German botanist. Because of its status in Buddhism the Ginkgo is also widely planted in Korea and parts of Japan; in both areas, some naturalization has occurred, with Ginkgos seeding into natural forests. The Ginkgo leaf is the symbol of the Urasenke school of Japanese tea ceremony. The tree is the official tree of the Japanese capital of Tokyo, and the symbol of Tokyo is a Ginkgo leaf.

The Ginkgo is a living fossil, with fossils recognisably related to modern Ginkgo from the Permian, dating back 270 million years. Fossils attributable to the genus Ginkgo first appeared in the Early Jurassic, and the genus diversified and spread throughout Laurasia during the middle Jurassic and Early Cretaceous. It declined in diversity as the Cretaceous progressed, and by the Paleocene, Ginkgo adiantoides was the only Ginkgo species left in the Northern Hemisphere, while a markedly different form persisted in the Southern Hemisphere. At the end of the Pliocene, Ginkgo fossils disappeared from the fossil record everywhere except in a small area of central China, where the modern species survived. It is doubtful whether the Northern Hemisphere fossil species of Ginkgo can be reliably distinguished.

The nut-like gametophytes inside the seeds are particularly esteemed in Asia, and are a traditional Chinese food. Ginkgo nuts are used in congee, and are often served at special occasions such as weddings and the Chinese New Year (as part of the vegetarian dish called Buddha’s delight). In Chinese culture, they are believed to have health benefits; some also consider them to have aphrodisiac qualities. Japanese cooks add Ginkgo seeds (called ginnan) to dishes such as chawanmushi, and cooked seeds are often eaten along with other dishes.
According to current research, Ginkgo biloba benefits include improved cognitive function, positive mood, increased energy, improved memory and reduced symptoms related to multiple chronic diseases — for instance, it’s been used as an asthma natural remedy, ADHD natural remedy and dementia treatment.

Ginkgo at Thorp Perrow

biloba N65, O41, X363      ‘Autumn Gold’ O124      ‘Saratoga’ O173

‘Pendula’ Z497                     ‘Tubifolia’ Z498             ‘Mayfield’ Z499

© 2018 Thorp Perrow