Ginkgo grew with dinosaurs, and is still worth growing

Some trees' beauty doesn't end when they lose their autumn leaves. Some trees are able to show off their bony framework. Ginkgo tree is one example.

Ginkgo grew with dinosaurs, and is still worth growing

Some trees' beauty doesn't end when they lose their autumn leaves. Some trees are able to show off their bony framework. Ginkgo tree is one example.

The leafless ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba), is soft and green in summer. Each main limb seems to know where it's going and juts out into space, giving the tree a rough but pleasant appearance. Instead of twigs the ginkgo has many short, stubby shoots that are about an inch in length.

UNIQUE LEAF FORMAT

Look down at the ground if you see a ginkgo with recently shed leaves. These trees' leaves can fall quickly and often all at once. It is a crime to rake the leaves. The leaves are pure yellow and appear as if there is some sunlight shining on them. They resemble maidenhair fern's leaves, which have the same shape as a Japanese fan. Ginkgo is also known by the common name "maidenhair tree".

The leaves are strange when examined closely. A ginkgo leaf's veins are more or less parallel. That is because they originate from the same point at the base and then spread outwards towards its tip, much like fan spines. This venation is not common in other broad-leaved plants.

For contrast, look at a maple leaf and you'll see main veins, subveins and sub-subveins running in every direction on the leaf. Parallel venation in ginkgo leaves can be seen as a sign of monocotyledonous plants such as grasses (to whom the ginkgo is clearly not related), and gymnosperms such as conifers.

Ginkgo is actually a gymnosperm. It's one of few broad-leaved gymnastosperms. These plants were once common 200 million years ago in the Paleozoic or Mesozoic eras. Ginkgo, together with cycads and cycads is the only survivor of this evolutionary lineage of plants.

A TOUGH POSITION, A SOFT APPEARANCE

Ginkgos were once found in North America and Asia millions of years ago. However, they disappeared from North America in recent geological times. Although wild ginkgos are no longer believed to exist in Asia, cultivated specimens have been found in Buddhist temples in Japan and China for over a thousand years.

Frank Meyer, a U.S. Department of Agriculture plant explorer, discovered wild ginkgos while trekking through China's interior in the early part of the century.

In Philadelphia, 1784, the first ginkgo tree was planted. Now rows of these trees line city streets. Ginkgo's delicate leaves help to soften concrete. Feel the leaves as soft as their appearance when they are in summer.

Gingko trees can be either male or female. Before you plant them, it is important to understand the gender of the tree. The seeds of female trees are enclosed in a fleshy cover. The problem is that the fleshy cover makes the fruits smell like vomit. This can be avoided by planting only male trees that do not produce fruit or making sure there are no nearby male trees if you plant any female trees.

The fruit eventually turns to mush, and then the gingko nuts are able to be collected and eaten. They are very popular in Asia.

Ginkgo looks a lot like a prehistoric survivor, the cockroach in its ability to endure adversity. Although its leaves are delicate, they can tolerate polluted atmospheres. It is rarely affected by insects or diseases. The tree's thick bark resists fire and the roots can withstand soil acidity and salinity levels that would kill many other plants. The roots are strong enough to withstand snow and wind damage.

Ginkgos are often planted in cities as trees. They are not aware of the fumes that are emitted by passing cars or other nuisances.

Who would have thought that a tree with leaves once rubbed at the tail of a dinosaur might be destined for such a fate?

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