Friday, September 24, 2010


Under a female ginkgo tree
In our neighborhood, we have a few ginkgo trees, but not very many.  There is one that lives about a block from us, and it is a female ginkgo tree, which means it gets very stinky at this time of year.  And also if you walk under it, you might step in the slimy seed things that fall off the tree, and then you might slip and fall down.  So in the fall, which officially started yesterday, we don't usually walk under this tree.

Fossil gingko leaf
Gingko trees have been around for a really, really, really long time, like maybe 270 million years.  There used to be several kinds of gingkos, but now there is only one kind, which is called Gingko biloba.  Scientists have found fossils of gingko leaves that look almost exactly like the gingko we have around today, so this is why the gingko is called a "living fossil."

Bonsai ginkgo
Lots of gingko trees are growing all over the world, but these are trees that people have planted.  Ginkgos may be extinct in the wild, or maybe there are a few left in two small areas in eastern China.  These might be wild gingko trees, but they also might have been planted by monks during the last 1,000 years or so.

Buddhists revere the gingko, and that is why they plant this tree in their temple gardens.  They have kept records of the trees that were planted, and some are over 500 years old.  The ancient Chinese called the ginkgo "the tree with leaves like a duck's foot," which is a very good description of it, in my opinion.  Another name for the tree is maidenhair-tree because the leaves are shaped like the fronds of a maidenhair fern.

Male gingko
Anyway, like I mentioned before, there are female ginkgo trees that produce stinky seeds.  And there are also male trees that aren't stinky at all.  The male trees make cone things with pollen in them, and then the female trees make seeds.  I thought those things growing on the female trees were fruits, but after doing my research, I learned that they are really soft, squishy seedpods.   

Gingko trees are popular because they grow nicely in towns, and they hardly ever get diseases or bugs or anything like that.  Of course, in some places, it is illegal to plant female gingkos, so a lot of people plant a male cultivar called "Autumn Gold," which probably got its name because in the fall, gingko leaves turn bright yellow, which makes them very pretty to look at.

Gingko seeds without the slimy seedpods
In Asia, people use the gingko seeds in their cooking.  Also some people think that if you take gingko biloba as a medicine, it will keep you from getting Alzheimer's, but there is no proof that this is true.  What ginkgo can do for sure is it can help your blood circulate better and maybe keep you from getting blood clots.  And having your blood flow better can help you maybe not have headaches, short-term memory loss, depression, or ringing in your ears.

Now I will tell you an amazing story about how strong and tough gingko trees are.  If you remember your history lessons, you will know that in 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  Well, guess what!  Six ginkgo trees survived this bomb, even though they were very close to the center of where it exploded.  And after a month or so, they budded out again and went on growing, and they are still alive today.

Charred trunk of Anraku-ji  ginkgo
Here is a picture of one of these ginkgo trees, and it's located at a temple called Anraku-ji.  It was 2,160 meters from the bomb blast.  The temple was rebuilt in 1948 with a hole in the roof to give the tree room to grow.  The plaque says, "This Gingko withstood the atomic bombing on August 6th 1945.  There are still scorch marks on the upper part of the trunk from the blast."

Okay, so that is all I'm going to tell you about this interesting tree.  Of course, if my brothers were writing this blog entry, they would say that gingko trees are also good to pee on, but they think any tree is good to pee on!  I will just give you the advice that if you want to plant a gingko tree, you should make sure to plant a male one!
Ginkgo leaf designs make nice artwork


  1. A long time ago, in the days before the internet, my mom went to college and took a botony class. One day the assignment was to find the living fossil tree on campus. That was all the clues she got. I don't know if mom got the answer right or not (probably not), but she's never forgotten that the ginkgo is the living fossil tree. And she knows where there are at least 2 in Raleigh, NC. (Or at least where they used to be)

    Zest, Superstar in training

  2. Dear Zest,
    My mom took Biology 101 and 102, but she did not take a botany class, so she didn't learn about the living fossil tree. But when Mom was in grad school at the University of Kansas, she lived in an apartment in the upstairs of a house, and there was a ginkgo tree in the front yard of this house, and that was the first ginkgo tree Mom had never known personally. And after that, she always remembered how to recognize a ginkgo tree.
    Your friend, Piper

  3. first I didn't think I had ever seen a ginkgo, but after looking at the photos you posted, I have seen at least the male ginkgo. Wonder why it would be illegal to plant a female ginkgo? That's interesting. I also learned it's a living fossil tree...I didn't know that. An old friend of mine use to take the ginkgo seeds...well they looked like a pill to me, for depression. It's been so long ago, not sure if it helped or not. Thanks for the great info!
    Love, AP

  4. Dear Aunt Patty,
    The reason why some cities don't want you to plant female ginkgo trees is because they are really, really stinky and also they drop those slimy, slippery seed things on the sidewalk, and people might fall down and sue somebody. So it's just nicer to have the male trees. I hate to have to say this because I am a female, so usually I think female things are better! You can buy ginkgo in a pill form at the drugstore, or at least that's what Mom told me. I never go in the drugstore because dogs aren't allowed there. I hope your friend got over being depressed.
    Love, Piper

  5. I have a 45 foot female ginkgo tree in my backyard. The leaves are beautiful green fans in the summer that provide a rich golden feast for one's eyes in the fall. All the leaves will fall off within 2 to 3 days. The leaves are difficult to rake because they are thick and succulent like. The seedpods are very smelly. We have a new puppy. Are the pods poisonous to dogs?

  6. Dear Anonymous,
    I did a little research on this question, with the help of my friend, Mr. Google, and it looks like ginkgo seeds are not poisonous to dogs. In fact, sometimes ginkgo is used as a medicine for dogs, just like it is for people because it helps you think better and remember stuff. Also coyotes eat it and they don't die from it. So I think it is probably safe, but you should not let your puppy eat tons and tons of it. At least that's my advice.

    Sincerely, Piper

  7. Piper,

    Help, My Ginko tree is acting like its fall, July 15, 2013. Every year it seems to loose its leaves early. We Live at the beach. We have had coastal fog for 2x weeks, "June gloom" in southern cal. beach micro-clime; Could it think that it was fall now? Leaves turned golden and began falling. Its going dormant.

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks, patrick

    1. Dear Patrick,
      I am sorry that your ginkgo tree is not acting like it's supposed to. If I were an expert on trees, which sadly I am not, I would tell you what is going on with your tree and how to fix it. Is there a garden center or nursery that you could call to ask about your tree? They might have some information and advice.
      Sincerely, Piper