Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 173 Ginkgo biloba

Common Names: ginkgo, maidenhair tree Family: Ginkgoaceae (ginkgo Family)
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ginkgo tree
The ginkgo puts on an autumn show of color after which all of the leaves near simultaneously drop to the ground for quick and easy removal.
ginkgo tree
'Autumn Gold' ginkgo in the autumn.

Description

Ginkgo is a survivor from ancient times. Fossil evidence indicates that 150 million years ago great forests of ginkgo covered much of North America and Asia. Today this hardy deciduous tree is enjoyed as a landscape plant in many parts of the world. Ginkgo grows slowly to a height of 100 ft (30.5 m), with a width in the range of 20-50 ft (6.1-15.2 m). Male trees tend to grow taller and more upright than the female trees which assume a lower, spreading form. Both exhibit an irregular pattern of branching that is visually appealing.

Not so appealing are the females' fleshy plum-like fruits. These are yellow-pink, about inch in diameter and smell like vomit! On a more positive note, the hard seeds make a tasty snack when roasted. Nonetheless, most will want to plant only male trees, from which there are many varieties to choose. The ginkgo has unique fan-shaped leaves that are 2-3 in (5.1-7.6 cm) long. Leaf veins radiate out from the petiole (leaf stem), and the center of the fan is notched, dividing the leaf into two lobes inspiring the species name biloba.

ginkgo trees
The shape of the pagoda in the Japanese Garden at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park echoes that of the ginkgo growing beside it.

Location

Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, was native to SE China but became extinct in the wild centuries ago. The tree survived only in temple gardens where it was cultivated for the edible seeds. Ginkgo is now a prized landscape tree for temperate areas everywhere.

Culture

Ginkgo is tolerant of most well-drained soils. Fastest growth occurs on deep sandy soils. Light: Likes bright sunny conditions. Moisture: Provide sufficient water after transplanting. Once established ginkgo is drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9. Propagation: By seed or by cuttings of soft wood which is the preferred method as the sex of a tree cannot be determined until it blossoms - trees may be twenty years old before they first bloom.

Usage

Ginkgoes are large trees that look great on an expanse of lawn. Unaffected by polluted air, they are good candidates for urban landscapes. They are also tolerant of salt spray and can be used near, but not directly on, the beach. Deep-rooted and high-branched, ginkgo are perfect for creating impressive street and boulevard plantings. Another rather uncommon use for these trees is topiary. I first encountered ginkgo as a young visitor to the old Coney Island amusement park near Cincinnati. Here pairs of ginkgo, trimmed into narrow cylinders, marched up and down the park's main mall with military precision. No longer an amusement park, Coney remains a recreational venue - maybe next trip home I'll pay a visit to see if the ginkgo soldier trees have survived the march of time.

ginkgo fruit
The ginkgo fruit's flesh is extremely malodorous which is why most homeowners will want to plant only male selections.
ginkgo leaves and bark
The distinctive fan shaped ginkgo leaves are the source of numerous compounds hat are useful in treating a number of medical conditions.

Features

Cold hardiness, pest resistance, low maintenance needs, and tolerance of smoke and air pollution, combined with its striking beauty, make ginkgo a highly prized addition to any space large enough to accommodate it. Ginkgo seeds may be purchased in shops specializing in Asian foods and are quite tasty. Extracts made from the leaves contain compounds that are used medically to treat senility, poor circulation and other complaints. Ginkgo preparations, long popular in Europe, are increasingly popular in the U.S. both to treat medical conditions and as "smart drugs" to enhance mental performance.

The flesh of ripe fruit ferments, creating noticeable quantities of butyric acid (the stuff of funky old billy goat odor). A pair of female ginkgoes stood in the school yard where I attended the first grade. When the fruit fell in September, "stinkbomb" wars would erupt to the delight of the boys, the dismay of the girls and the disgust of the nuns. The wars grew more intense (and aromatic) until the third grade when we returned to find the trees - gone! The stinkbomb war ended for lack of ammunition, but schoolyard peace was not to be achieved. To the nuns' despair a new evil arose - the osage orange (Maclura pomifera) wars had begun! But that's another story...

Warning

Avoid female plants, the fruit is very messy and has a putrid aroma.

Jack Scheper 02/13/99; updated sc 12/5/99, 10/23/04, 12/10/10, 3/23/12



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Ginkgo species profiled on Floridata:


Ginkgo biloba

( ginkgo, maidenhair tree )

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