Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree)

Ginkgo trees are tall, unusually branched, and have unique leaves. The leaves are a beautiful green color, turning a gorgeous yellow in autumn. These trees are strictly upright and will not normally droop. They are extraordinarily tolerant of conditions from pollution to drought to heavy snowfall. The fruit from the female trees produces a generally undesirable odor. Their fruit or extract is used in medicine and was once thought to be effective as a cure for Alzheimer’s.  Ginkgo trees are considered living fossils, as their origins trace back to 150,000,000 years ago. They grow natively along the Yangste River in China, which was the sole place they survived before humans began planting them in greater numbers. Nowadays, they grow in many cities and are widely planted. Many universities, gardens, and parks plant ginkgo trees (the Missouri Botanical Garden has some very large specimens with girths of several feet).

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree, Ginkgo)
Deciduous: Yes
Hardiness Zones: 3-8
Height: These grow 20-35 meters (50-80 feet (up to 100 feet)) in the United States and up to 50 meters in China.
Diameter: 30-40 feet
Growth Rate: initially slow, speeds up as the tree grows older
Age: One tree is claimed to be 2,500-3,000 years old
Root System: deep root systems
Family: Ginkgoaceae
Subspecies: ‘Princeton Sentry’ (male only, fruitless, columnar growth, narrow and conical form, regularly 65 feet tall at maturity), ‘Fairmont’ (oval or pyramidal form, male only, fruitless), ‘Autumn Gold’, ‘Fastigiata’ (male only, fruitless), ‘Lanciniata’ (sharply divided leaf margins), ‘Lakeview’ (compact, broad, conical form, male, fruitless), , ‘Mayfield’ (upright columnar growth, male only), ‘Pendula’ (pendent branches), ”Santa Cruz’ (umbrella shaped), ‘Variegata’ (variegated leaves)

Tolerates: deer, clay soil, alkaline soil, acidic soil, compact soil, air pollution, saline conditions, heat, pests, storm damage (snow, rain), wind, drought
Problems (major): no major problems
Problems (minor): Initial growth is somewhat sparse and rather slow. Poorly tolerates salt.
Poisonous: Ingesting seeds may be toxic. Ginkgo extract has little proven value and may lead to a number of undesirable effects.

Soil requirements: sandy, well-drained soils preferred
Air Requirements: tolerant of urban pollution
Watering requirement: medium
Sun requirement: full sun preferred, part sun or part shade work as well

Needles: None
Cones (male): None
Cones (female): None
Leaves: fan-shaped, light to dark green in summer, golden in autumn
Flowers: inconspicuous with a nice fragrance
Fruits: Female fruits are 1.5-2 centimeters long, plum-like, encased in butanoic acid, orangish-yellow, and have an extremely noxious odor upon falling to the ground and splitting open.
Seeds require stratification: Yes
Monoecious or Dioecious: dioecious

Notable characteristics:
It is estimated that the first ginkgo trees originated around 150,000,000 years ago. Found in the Yangste River in eastern China, researchers discovered that a few monks had been growing these trees nearby. Some of the fruits were brought over to the United States, where it became an extremely popular city plant due to its high pollution tolerance. Tree branches may have some odd-looking “pegs” (spurs twigs) present. The leaf shape is highly unusual, shaped like a fan not dissimilar to a maidenhair fern frond. Can propagate by budding. This tree transplants and adapts well to new environments.

Used as street trees, city trees, park trees, or specimen trees. It is also grown as a bonsai. It is occasionally used for medicines, although the effects are questionable. The fixed extract has some use (mostly related to increased blood circulation), but the leaves have little medical value on their own. Male trees are almost always planted to avoid the pungent smell from the female fruits. Many universities, such as Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and Eastern Illinois University, have multiple trees on campus. They cast a notable deal of shade during the summer.

Sources used:


I discovered this fruit-bearing G. biloba when visiting Southern Illinois University Carbondale in autumn. The leaves were a beautiful yellow, complementing many other plants around the agricultural building, where it is located.




One seed with its outer coat removed and another seed still encased by its fruit-like tissues


A very young Ginkgo sapling (only a few months old)


A young tree


A few leaves emerging from the primary trunk


Multiple seeds on the ground, seed coats removed, at SIU Carbondale




Leave a comment

Filed under Plant Analysis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s