Ginkgo biloba L. – Ginkgoaceae – ginkgo family

The ginkgo or maidenhair tree, presumably native to China, is widely planted in many temperate areas.  It is not a conifer or flowering plant, but rather the sole survivor of an otherwise extinct gymnosperm lineage.  Gymnosperms are an artificial grouping (= not a single lineage) of ‘naked seed’ plants.  They don’t have flowers that develop into fruits that enclose the seeds.  Gymnosperms have seeds that are exposed, not covered, even though they may be contained in cones.  [What did the ancient Greeks wear in the gymnasium anyway? – They were often naked!] The largest living lineage of gymnosperms is the conifers, which includes about 600 species of cone-bearing plants such as pines, spruces, and cypresses.  Some botanists believe that ginkgo comes from the extinct plants called seed ferns.

Ginkgo trees are dioecious, which means that there are separate pollen-producing “male” trees and seed-producing “female” trees.  The seeds of ginkgo are very exposed and not contained in cones.  They are borne in pairs at the end of a stalk, unless one of the pair fails to develop.  The seeds of ginkgo have a terrible rancid odor.  No one knows what the original ginkgo seed dispersers were.  What animals were attracted to this foul odor?  Humans are now the dispersers.

Most of the tree lawn ginkgos in Albion are quite small.  The best specimen in town is probably the “female” tree just S of the top of the Victory Park sled hill.  Its reproductive structures generally appear in mid May.  Another nice seed tree is located at 616 E Michigan Ave.

Ginkgo trees drop their leaves quickly in autumn.  They suddenly turn a bright yellow over a day or two and may may all fall off within a 24-hour period.

Extracts from ginkgo leaves are currently marketed and sold for medicinal purposes, but we cannot for the life of us remember what for!