Have you noticed the ginkgo trees covered in yellow leaves bright as butterflies, fluttering in the November breeze? How delicately beautiful they are this time of year, with their slender trunks and golden autumn color!
Ginkgo biloba, also known as Maidenhair tree, comes to us from China, where it has been cultivated for centuries. In fact, Ancient Chinese records are surprisingly complete and describe the tree as ya-chio-tu , meaning a tree with leaves like a duck’s foot. Asian peoples systematically planted the tree and many living ginkgoes are known to be more than 5 centuries old. Buddhist monks not only kept written records but revered the tree and preserved it in temple gardens. Western collectors eventually imported ginkgoes to Europe where it was very popular in large cities like London and Paris.
Ginkgo is sometimes referred to as a “living fossil” because the tree can be traced all the way back to the Triassic period. Closely related species are thought to have existed on earth for over 200 million years, but today ginkgo biloba has no close relatives at all. It may be the oldest living seed plant and is therefore considered by some to be one of the wonders of the world. Ginkgo trees represent a precious link between the present and the remote past. Individual trees may live longer than 3,000 years.
Because of its unique position botanists found it difficult to classify the ginkgo, placing it in a separate group in recent years, the division (phylum) Ginkgophyta. This division consists of the single order Ginkgoales (Engler 1898), a single family Ginkgoaceae (Engler 1897), a single extant genus Ginkgo.
Ginkgo trees are well suited to the Bay Area climate, and they grow, slowly, to 40-60 feet. They are virtually pest-free, and should be planted in full sun.