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Plant of the month February

Common Name: Maiden Hair Tree

Scientific Name: Ginkgo biloba L.

Family: Ginkgoaceae

 

Etymology

Genus:  

Ginkgo mispelling of the Japanese gin kyo, ‘silver apricot’ derived from the Chinese 

Species epithet:

biloba - two lobed leaf

Distribution

Two small areas in Zhejiang province in eastern China, in the Tianmushan Reserve. Populations in the Dalou Mountains, southwestern China may also be natural populations.

Native Habitat

Deciduous forests in valleys with acidic soil.

Description 

Tall, usually broad domed deciduous tree to 40 m. Unique fan shaped (bilobed) leaves that resemble the leaves of the
maidenhair fern. Trees are prized for their autumn foliage when leaves turn a beautiful butter yellow.

Reproduction

Trees are dioecious, with some trees male and others female.These ancient trees are unique in that they do not produce flowers or cones. Male trees bear small spikes of pollen sacs and female trees form two ovuless at the end of a stalk and usually one develop into a seed after fertilization.

Seeds

The seed is 1.5-2 cm long, covered in a fleshy outer layer that
is light yellow brown, soft and fruit-like. It is attractive but has an unpleasant smell like rancid butter or vomit when mature.

Location in Garden

Various locations including: bed 32, Tropical Garden, bed 17 and lawns near Rathborne Lodge and Oriental Garden.

Information

Ginkgo biloba, sometimes referred to as a ‘living fossil’, is the only surviving member of an ancient order (Ginkgoales) of seed bearing plants around 270 million years old. Individual trees and populations of trees are renowned and revered for their longevity. They have been cultivated for thousands of years in China and many examples of planted and wild trees thought to be over one thousand years old exist, including a penjing (bonsai) specimen said to be 1,300 years old. Plants were brought to Japan with Buddhism in the 6th CE and the oldest specimen in Europe, planted in Utrecht Botanic Gardens in 1730 still survives as does the specimen at Kew Garden planted in 1762. Their longevity is due in part to their resistance to insect attack and ability to regrow vegetatively.

The nut-like gametophytes inside the seeds are a traditional Chinese food, often served at special occassions including New Year. Both seeds and leaves have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years for a wide range of conditions. Ginkgo extracts have become popular in herbal medicines especially for memory and circulation. Research is ongoing into the use of chemicals within Ginkgo for medicinal uses but also potential harmful side effects.

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