There is a fairly good chance that many people have heard of ginkgo extract. The extract is very good for brain function and to improve both memory and blood flow to the brain. The extract is commonly prescribed in a number of European countries. Fewer people know where the ginkgo extract comes from, though. This extract comes from a tree.
More specifically, it comes from the maidenhair tree. Ginkgo biloba is the scientific name. It is also the only non-extinct species of an entire plant division known as Ginkgophyta. All other of the many species are long since extinct.
These trees were once numerous throughout the world and the fossil record for the entire group goes back about 270 million years. Indeed, the entire division was at one time thought to be extinct, until a small grove of Ginkgo biloba was found in a remote and sheltered place in China, in the Zhejiang province. There is strong evidence that the grove had been carefully tended for many centuries by Chinese monks.
The tree is now grown in many places, including Europe and the United States. Most often, they are grown as a decorative tree, though they aren’t small. Ginkgos, which should really be called ‘bilobas’ since that is the species name, commonly grow to 100 feet and there are specimens that stand over 160 feet (50 meters) tall.
The tree isn’t orderly in growth like pines or firs. Rather, the branches almost seem haphazard. This is a deciduous tree and the leaves fall yearly, becoming brilliant yellow before doing so. This tree also has an exceptionally long life span. Some individual trees were apparently growing strong at the time that Jesus was born, over 2,000 years ago.
The growth of the branches is sort of hard to describe, because the limbs have secondary limbs that have a different growth pattern and appearance. Also, the tree can produce buds near the bottom of the tree trunks that are capable of rooting and growing.
The leaves are unique for trees that produce seeds. The leaf is fan-shaped and each has two main veins at the base, which continually split into two more as they go to the end of the leaf. The mature leaves are between two to six inches in length. The over-all appearance of the leaf is somewhat similar to that of celery, at a distance.
The seeds aren’t borne in cones, though the pollen is produced in a cone. Thus, it has traits of conifers and traits of flowering trees, too. The trees are either male or female, too, so some trees totally lack cones while others have them.
The seeds are surrounded by pulpy flesh, much like a fruit, but though it has a beautiful and appealing appearance, it has a bad aroma that most people find repulsive.
Also unusual for a tree like this, the fertilization of the ova is accomplished by impregnation via sperm, which is quite similar to that of cycads, algae and moss. The sperm is mobile, thanks to flagella that can be moved about. This is the same method of movement that many single-celled animals employ and it is also how human sperm gets around, though human sperm has a single flagellum.
The tree grows best in rich, silty soil that is acidic, down to a pH of 5.0. This tree is still most numerous in China, though it is now a common tree over most of the southern part of the country. Biloba has been grown in the US for a couple of hundred years and in Europe for about a century longer, but it hasn’t become naturalized in either region. It is also grown in Japan and Korea. In Japan the tree is important to the culture and plays a major part of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
As a point of interest, after the detonation of the atomic bomb above Hiroshima, Japan, all vegetation was destroyed in an area to quite some distance from the blast point, except for six trees. Those six trees were Ginkgo biloba trees and they continued to grow; severely singed but very much alive.
The seeds have been cooked and eaten, mostly by the Chinese and Japanese, for a very long time and have even been believed to be aphrodisiacs. Though ginkgo has been used in Chinese medicine for a long time, the extract has only become an accepted medical substance since the 1960’s.
Since the tree is insect and disease resistant, and because it is an honestly pretty tree, it is no longer in threat of extinction. This is a remarkable and unique tree and one that is considered to be a “living fossil”.
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Posted in food and plants and tagged description, Ginkgo biloba, living fossil, maidenhair tree, tree, tree profile by rextrulove with 4 comments.