Ginkgo biloba, The Great Miracle
Bulgarian English
Short description

Ginkgo biloba is a unique tree without any living botanical relatives. It has been classified in a separate division Ginkgophyta, which contains the class of Ginkgoopsida, order of Ginkgoales, family of Ginkgoaceae, genus Ginkgo, and to this day it is the only living species belonging to this division. Ginkgo biloba is one of the most well-known examples of "a living fossil."

Ginkgo tree over 50 years old at the end of April

For many centuries the species was considered extinct in the wild, but we now know that undomesticated Ginkgo trees currently exist in at least two small areas in Eastern China. However, since these areas have been inhabited by humans for several thousands of years, the "undomesticated" status of these trees is debatable. Ginkgo is being grown worldwide in parks and gardens, since it is excellent at coping with toxic city environments and pests. Four Ginkgo trees have survived after the atomic explosion in Hiroshima, only about 1-2 km away from the site of the explosion. In Bulgaria Ginkgo is relatively rare as a decorative and/or park tree.

Ginkgo is a dioecious plant, which means that some of the specimens are female, and others are male. Male trees produce small green-yellow pollen cones looking like catkins each about 1.2-2.2 cm. Ginkgo is a gymnosperm: its seeds are not situated within a fruit that ripens. Instead, each seed has its own fleshy casing which protects the germ from harmful impact. The small silvery-yellow-orange balls resembling a plum or apricot (1.5-2 cm in size) produced by the female tree are not fruits, but ovules. After pollination occurs, they transform into seeds which consist of 3 layers: a soft fleshy casing (sarcotesta), a solid layer (sclerotesta) which resembles the shell of pistachios, and the innermost layer-nut (endotesta), which contain the germ encased in nutritive tissue. This is where the name of the tree comes from: the phrase "silvery apricot," which is pronounced "ginkyo" in Japanese.

Gingko is a deciduous tree of medium size, reaching 20-35 m in height, with some specimens in China reaching more than 50m. Its roots are deep and the tree can withstand wind and snow. The wood is very light and soft.

Young Ginkgo trees are often tall and slender, with large distance among individual branches; the crown widens as the tree ages. Ginkgo leaves are flat and fan-shaped, with 2 lobes, radial veins, with no mid-rib. They are 5-8 cm wide with long stems (7-8cm). They resemble the leaves of the Maidenhair fern, which is why the tree is commonly known as Maidenhair Tree in English. The leaves turn bright yellow in the autumn and fall off the tree in the course of 1-15 days, sometimes in a very short time period (1-2 hours).

The combination of good pest resistance, insect-proof wood, and the ability to form air roots and sprouts makes Ginkgo a very durable tree with a very long lifespan. Some specimens are considered to be more than 2500 years old; a 3000-year-old tree reportedly exists in China, in the province of Shandong.

Ginkgo has been cultivated in the Far East for more than 1500 years. The first "Westerner" to have seen this tree in Japan in 1691 was the German explorer Engelbert Kaempfer who included descriptions of the tree in his work "Amoenitatum exoticarum" (1712). Contemporary Japanese call Ginkgo icho or ginnan.

Ginkgo seeds in September

In China and Japan, the seeds are used as food after the fleshy casing is removed. They are considered a delicacy and are served, typically roasted and dyed in red, as part of wedding rituals. When consumed raw, they are considered to be an aphrodisiac. In China, highly productive female Ginkgo trees have been cultivated for over 600 years for the purpose of obtaining food from their seeds.

The fleshy casing of the seeds contains butanoic acid and releases a somewhat unpleasant smell which resembles the smell of rancid butter. This is why male Ginkgo trees are preferred in the USA and Europe.

The Ginkgo biloba species has been included in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN (The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). Although Ginkgo trees are commonly planted and cultivated, the species is endangered and at risk of losing its biodiversity, because of people’s preference for male trees propagated mainly by cuttings.

Common Use

Ginkgo biloba is among the most commonly used medicinal plants in the world. Nevertheless, it has been known in the West for a relatively short period of time (several decades). Its medicinal properties have been used in Chinese medicine for ages. Ginkgo leaves contain 198 active ingredients, which decrease cholesterol levels, maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, eliminate free radicals, stimulate the brain, and improve memory.

Cultivation

Ginkgo trees can grow at altitudes of up to 1500 m. They can withstand temperatures of -30 C or higher. A Ginkgo tree would thrive at a sunny spot where it receives direct sunlight for at least half of the day. Ginkgo trees are highly resistant to pests, fungi, viruses and bacteria. They can reach up to 50 m in height, and typically grow by 50 to 120 cm a year. In the first few years of its growth, a young tree needs to be watered once a week in the heat of summer. In Bulgaria, Ginkgo should be planted outdoors between November and April. In general, the earlier, the better. For Ginkgo trees planted in biodegradable pots, planting outdoors can be done at any time of the year.

Where to Buy

Saplings 2 years old and 3 years old, 30 -180 cm tall above ground level; prices 14-199 lv depending on size. The plants have been cultivated from seeds and grown in Bulgaria. Each plant is sold in a biodegradable container with special soil-fertilizer mix which ensures conditions for optimal growth and development.

Ginkgo plant from GinkgoPlanter's plantation, 15 months old, in the midle of its second vegetation period, in biodegradable pot

For further information: Vasil Dabov, +358 888 374 246

GINKGOPLANTER@GMAIL.COM

Other websites

PLANT FOR THE PLANET

Wild Plants in Bulgaria

Ginkgo Pages