Ginkos, also known as maidenhair trees, are believed to be one of the oldest known types of trees. The species has long been cultivated by Buddhist monks throughout Asia, perhaps saving the tree from extinction; is no longer found in the wild. These statuesque trees feature unusual single- and dual-lobed, fan-shaped leaves whose popularity has been depicted in everything from artwork and decorative design elements to jewelry.
Ginkos are slow growing, tall trees, often reaching 150 feet or more at maturity. Bright green fan-shaped leaves cover a series of sparse branches. The trunk of the tree is gray and is commonly covered with a thin layer of both moss and lichens. Ginko trees grow best in full or partial sun and can tolerate a wide range of soils, provided that there is good drainage.
The single- or dual-lobed, fan-shaped leaves of ginko trees are bright green throughout the majority of the year, though in the fall they will turn yellow. Fan-shaped leaves are uncommon for trees, and the nickname "maidenhair tree" may stem from the similarity of the ginkgo leaf to the maidenhair fern. At their widest, the leaves are approximately 2 1/2 across and have veins that radiate towards the edges. Leaves grow out of short, stumpy shoots and cluster together at the edge of the shoot.
Habitat and Locales
Ginkgo trees originally hail from Asia and can now be found throughout much of the world. It is a hardy tree that will grow well in zones 4 through 9. Its primary prerequisite is good quality, loamy soil, though it will tolerate many soil types so long as there is good drainage. Its resistance to disease and ability to withstand certain harsh elements, such as pollution, can make it a good choice for everywhere from suburbs to cities.
Culinary, Medicinal and Decorative Uses
Ginkgo trees are quite versatile and have long been used by the medical community to treat a myriad of ailments ranging from memory problems to tinnitus, asthma and other health issues. Ginkgo is taken in the form of commercially available extracts, pills or teas, according to a doctor's instructions. It is important to discuss the use of ginko biloba with your doctor, as adverse reactions are possible in individuals with certain types of medical issues.
Ginkgo trees are popular for their wood, which in some parts of the world is used to make furniture, beads and decorative elements. Ginkgos are also a popular bonsai specimen among enthusiasts, and in Asia the seed, considered a delicacy, is commonly roasted and eaten.
Unlike most trees, ginkgos come in both male and female form. It is, however, very difficult to tell the difference until the trees reach full or partial maturity. Male trees have cones that produce pollen during the spring, while female trees feature ovules that develop seeds in the fall. Pollination occurs when motile sperm reaches the female tree via the wind.The fleshy fruit that then grows on the female ginko tree measures about 1/2 inch in diameter. It contains butanoic acid, which gives it a foul odor as it falls from the tree and is stepped on or decays. Ginko trees can also be propagated manually from cuttings.