Well, if you didn’t know, on the 26th September we celebrate National Tree Day. If we really need a special day for celebrating the trees, I would say: be aware of the trees around you, plant one, educate yourself and others about them, and more importantly, respect the trees and be thankful for their resilience. Myself, I’ll celebrate by presenting a few trees in the coming weeks. Ginkgo biloba comes first because it is the only surviving member of the genus Ginkgo, a true living fossil from the Paleozoic period, when dinosaurs were probably sitting under its shade. Also it is a tree that could have many pages written about its symbolism, medicinal and ornamental properties.
As for its ornamental properties, I don’t know if there is a need to mention the leathery, fan shaped leaves with a golden yellow colouration in the fall, the pyramidal shape, its resilience to a wide range of conditions, including pollution resistance. Its cultivation was first related to the medicinal properties of the leaves and seeds, which have been employed for many centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. Gingko leaf extract is commonly prescribed today to improve cognitive function in people with symptoms of age related mental decline, as well as for problems of the circulatory system.
The first record of Ginkgo being cultivated in Asia dates back to the Song dynasty in China (11th century), and it was first mentioned in Chinese herbals in the 1200s. From China, where it was grown around the temples, was introduced to Japan, where it was discovered by the botanist Engelbert Kaempfer. The genus name, Ginkgo, is believed to derive from the Japanese word gingkyo, which is thought to be a corruption of the Chinese yin-hsing, meaning “silver apricot” (alluding to the fruit resemblance to an apricot). In Europe it arrived in the early 1700s, first in Holland then in England and in France, and it was named by Carl Linnaeus, of course, with its scientific name: Gingko biloba.
Ginkgo is a dioecious species (has female and male flowers on different individuals) with an interesting reproduction and ‘fructification’, making the link between the ferns and the today’s conifers. For ornamental purposes only the male trees are desirable today, the ‘fruits’ produced by the female trees being considered messy and with a bad odour, although is not that bad as the saying goes. To read more and see lots of pictures and videos, please visit this amazing website – The Ginkgo Pages – it is dedicated entirely to Ginkgo, including a presentation of Gingko trees that survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb – very impressive!