Footsteps in the Forest

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  

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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 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.

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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