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Ginkgo Tree

(Ginkgo biloba)

Height: To about 75 feet; often smaller  

Evergreen/Deciduous: Deciduous

Lifespan: Extremely long-lived; to at least 3,000 years

Fall Foliage: Glorious gold; a true jaw-dropper  

Range: Originally native to China, and ll ginkgo trees in the U.S. were likely deliberately planted; it’s been included here simply because the species is so interesting   

Typical Habitat: A forest-dwelling species in the wild, it is usually found in parking lots, gardens, parks and similar locations in which people can enjoy it; prefers moist soil and ample sun exposure  

ginkgo tree leaf

The Ginkgo Tree: A “Living Fossil”   

One of the first things you’ll learn when researching this species is that the ginkgo tree (also known as the maidenhair tree) is often called a “living fossil.” This is a reference to the fact that it has changed very little in the last 200 million years.

In other words, the tree – which first evolved before flowering plants arrived on the scene — looks more or less the same as it did when dinosaurs were munching on its leaves in the mid-Jurassic.

Even more noteworthy to some, the ginkgo tree is the sole remaining member of its group – it has no close living relatives. In fact, it is the only tree in the entire order known as Ginkgoales.   

Identification: Tips & Tricks

You’re not going to mistake this tree for any other species. It has an unmistakable fan-shaped leaf, which may be completely intact or split into two halves. It also produces brilliant gold fall foliage which stands out from a long distance.

These two facts actually make the ginkgo tree a great species to teach your kids to identify.

Location will also provide an important clue, as you’re very unlikely to encounter this species growing in the natural areas.  

The Ginkgo Tree: Additional Information

Check out the following resources to learn more about this ancient species:

  • Yale Environment 360: An in-depth interview with a botanist detailing the evolutionary history of the species. A must-read for those interested in this species.   
  • Missouri Botanical Garden: Basic information on the tree, along with a number of excellent photographs.
  • CalPoly SelecTree: This page is primarily directed at those who want to grow or care for this species, but its numerous photographs make this a valuable resource for nature lovers too.

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