“Maidenhair Tree”: Characteristics, Fruits, Flowers, History, Uses

The Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo, or Ginkgo biloba) is a curative plant from the Ginkgoaceae family native to China. The term “maidenhair tree” comes from the resemblance of its leaves to the leaves of the Maidenhair ferns from the genus Adiantum, with delicate fronds and slender, black stalks. It is still cultivated mainly for neurological health, cardiovascular health, and antioxidant properties. A unique aspect of the Maidenhair tree compared to other curative plants is its ability to live for over a thousand years. It is the only survivor of a tree species dating back to the Jurassic era, thereby earning another one of its nicknames, “living fossil.” The Maidenhair tree’s origin dates back to 290 million years ago. It belongs to the order of Ginkgoales in the family Ginkgoaceae. You can identify the Maidenhair tree by its distinctive leaves and pungent smell of the nuts produced by the female trees; they do not bear fruit. During spring, it shows off green flowers that possess a pleasant odor. The Maidenhair tree and its parts are used for medical, culinary, and ornamental purposes throughout the world.

What is Ginkgo Biloba?

Ginkgo biloba is the scientific name of the Maidenhair tree. Its leaves are distinctively bilobed, fan-shaped, and leathery like those of the leaflets of a maidenhair fern, a species of fern plant growing around the world.

The Ginkgo Biloba Tree’s genome size is 10.61 Gb containing 41,840 annotated genes in 24 chromosomes.

The Ginkgo biloba tree belongs to the class Ginkgopsida and the order Ginkgoales. In Japan, it is called Ichou, and Yin xing in China. The Ginkgo biloba name comes from Gingko, with the Japanese pronunciation gin kyo meaning “silver apricot” and biloba from its bilobed leaves. Because of the complicated spelling of “ginkgo,” it is commonly pronounced as “gingko.”

A mature Ginkgo tree typically stands 65 to 115 feet (20 to 35 meters). Some Maidenhair tree samples reach 165 feet (50 meters), with a spread of approximately 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 meters). Chichi are aerial roots that are produced along the trunks and branches. They grow both ways, down to form the roots and up to sprout leaves. 

The Maidenhair tree requires 4 hours of daily sun exposure for optimal growth. It also needs day-to-day watering for the first 7-10 days tapering down until the fourth-sixth week after sprouting. The Ginkgo tree will no longer necessitate a hose down once fully grown.

The leaves of Ginkgo biloba are green in summer. During autumn, they change color from green to yellow. The shedding Ginkgo trees also create a scar between their leaves and stem in preparation for winter. In the cold months, the trees drop leaves from their branches all at once. The only way to tell a female Ginkgo tree from a male Ginkgo tree is the pungent smell of the exposed nuts that have dropped to the ground during the fall season. The term Ginkgo biloba was first mentioned in the illustrated book Mantissa Plantarum Altera in 1771. 

There are 23 different varieties of the Maidenhair tree, such as the Fairmont Maidenhair tree and the Princeton Sentry Maidenhair tree. The main differences between the Maidenhair Tree types are height, gender, and leaf color. The Golden Globe Maidenhair Tree is a distinct Ginkgo variety as it only has a male gender; it does not produce any seeds. As for the distinction in leaves, the Shangri-La Maidenhair Tree possesses a bright green to blue-green leaf color compared to the usual green hue. While most Ginkgo trees grow to a minimum height of 50 feet, some varieties are considered “dwarf” types in the Ginkgo family. They are as follows:

  • Boleslaw Chrobry Maidenhair Tree (4 feet)
  • Weeping Wonder Maidenhair Tree (4 to 6 feet)
  • Chase Manhattan Maidenhair Tree (6 feet)
  • Kohout Weeping Maidenhair Tree (4-8 feet)

What is the Reproduction Process of the Maidenhair tree?

The reproduction process of the Maidenhair tree is the same as other plants, where a male tree pollinates a female tree. The sex of a tree is either a female or a male.

The male tree produces pollen cones with sporophylls stalks that create pollen tubes holding two sperm cells. When the male tree releases its pollen, the sperm cells are carried by the wind to the eggs of the female tree where two ovules are formed at the end of the stalk. After wind pollination, there is at least a 50% chance of these two ovules developing into seeds.

The female gametophyte is in the middle of the seed surrounded by the nucellus, which is then enclosed by the sclerotesta and sarcotesta, the two outermost layers.

What is the Genome of Ginkgo?

A genome, in biological terms, is a complete set of an organism’s genetic information that contains the details needed for the organism to grow, develop, and function. As the only living species in its division, the genome of the Ginkgo tree is essential in understanding a wide variety of extinct plants.

At present, the DNA assembly of Ginkgo biloba contains 41,840 annotated genes in 24 chromosomes with a 10.61 Gb genome size. All of these contribute to its antibacterial and chemical defense mechanisms.

In a study conducted by Wang and his team in 2020, the genetic make-up of the Ginkgo tree trunk illuminated some of the physiology that enables it to fight against aging. The study focused on examining the vascular cambium of Ginkgo trees aged 15 to 667 years old. The researchers found that the older trees compensated for senescence by balancing growth and resisting the aging process. The genes associated with disease resistance and preformed protective secondary metabolites were higher in the oldest trees.

How is the Maidenhair tree used for Phytochemicals?

Phytochemicals are a large group of bioactive nutrient chemicals found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and other plants. Plants with high concentrations of phytochemicals may afford health benefits to decrease chronic disease risks in humans.

Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) contains phytochemicals gathered from the dried leaves of the trees. The extract is prepared by organic extraction, a chemical process used to selectively collect a compound needed from a solute. Plantations in South Korea, Japan, France, and the United States grow Ginkgo and produce these leaves. From cultivating and harvesting conditions to drying and preparing the leaves, cultivators maintain strict standard protocols. No fertilizers or chemicals are used. 

The primary phytochemicals in the Maidenhair tree are terpenes and trilactones (ginkgolides and bilobalides), flavonoid glycosides, and other compounds.

  1. Ginkgolides A, B, C, J, M, K, and L: Ginkgolide A is the most active compound produced by the Maidenhair tree. It is synthesized from a series of oxidation steps following the deoxyerythritol phosphate pathway. Ginkgolides P and Q have also been found in the leaves of the tree.
  2. Bilobalides: These are sesquiterpene trilactones found in the leaves of the tree. According to a study, bilobalide is an active ingredient in the cognitive effects of the ginkgo extract.
  3. Flavonoid glycosides: These are flavones, biflavones, flavonols, tannins, and related glycosides with antioxidant effects. They contain levels of quercetin, a bioflavonoid also found in fruits and vegetables that exhibit neuroactive, antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, and anti-atherogenic properties.

The standard extract used in manufacturing contains at least 24% ginkgo flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones. 

 

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What is the Taxonomy of Ginkgo Biloba?

The taxonomy of Ginkgo biloba describes how the tree is named and classified based on existing information. 

The Ginkgo is classified as follows:

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Gingkophyta
  • Class: Ginkgoopsida
  • Order: Ginkgoales
  • Family: Ginkgoaceae
  • Genus: Ginkgo
  • Species: Ginkgo biloba

Organisms belonging to the Kingdom Plantae are multicellular and mostly photosynthetic. Ginkgo biloba needs sunlight to synthesize, a concrete reason to be in the category. It is under the Phylum Gingkophyta as it is seed-bearing, and it lacks fruiting structures. The distinctive fan-shaped leaves of the Ginkgo trees make it a viable member of the Ginkgopsida class. Plants in this class are dioecious: each tree is either a male or a female. The Ginkgo is classified under Order Ginkgoales because of its bilobed, fan-like leaves, terminal-positioned ovules, hump-like outgrowth at its apex, absent embryonal suspensor, and the female gametophyte tent poles. Under the Family Ginkgoaceae are parts that have veins that branch out to two equal parts, like the Ginkgo. Its genus is attributed to the seeds it produces at the end of its shoot.

Less officially, Ginkgo biloba belongs to the branch Gymnosperm, a group of seed-producing plants not enclosed in a fruit or ovary. It shares identical characteristics with other gymnosperms such as cycads and conifers. It has the same reproductive trait as cycads and similar growth and structure with conifers. The affinity of Ginkgos to this branch is crucial in discovering new information on the evolution of gymnosperms. 

A study conducted by Zhenxiang and his team provided evidence to the fact that Ginkgo biloba belongs to the gymnosperms. After examining the Ginkgo and cycads genes, the coalescent and concatenation analysis strongly supports that the remaining extant gymnosperms are sisters to both Ginkgo and cycads. 

The Maidenhair tree and other plants in this branch are also beneficial to the medical and industrial fields and as a food resource in modern society. An anticancer drug, Paclitaxel, derives its ingredients from the bark of the yew tree. The French maritime pine has anticancer, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory effects. The yew tree and maritime pine are both conifers; they are gymnosperms. Ginkgos and other gymnosperms can live in geographic locations with only moderate rainfall. They need sun for at least 4 hours daily and are a hardy variety, adapting well to nitrogen-poor soil.

How do scientists classify the Maidenhair tree?

Scientists classify the Maidenhair tree based on its characteristics, structural parts, and functions. There is an established scientific classification of the tree: it belongs to the Plantae kingdom, Ginkgophyta phylum, Ginkgopsida class, Ginkgoales order, Ginkgoaceae family, and Ginkgo genus. Before this, the tree had been placed loosely in the divisions Spermatophyta and Pinophyta, but no consensus had been reached.

The Maidenhair tree is also classified according to conservation. In the scientific report, “Gymnosperms on the Edge” by Forest et.al, the tree is rated Endangered (EN) per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria. With a score of 315, it ranked 1st in Evolutionary Distinctiveness. It also received a score of 4.89, placing it in 2nd place on the EDGE Gymnosperm list. EDGE specifically gives an approximate expected loss of a species’ evolutionary history per time unit.

What is the evolution process of Ginkgo Biloba?

According to fossil records, different kinds of plants similar to Ginkgoes once inhabited the northern and southern hemispheres, though Ginkgo biloba is now the only living member of the Ginkgo lineage. 

Earlier fossils revealed that Ginkgo species were unchanged for the past 51 million years and from the species 170 million years ago. A paleobotanical study conducted by Zhou Zhiyan and Shaolin Zeng of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology aims to bridge the gap between these two dates. 

These researchers found various fossils resembling ginkgo-like plants dating back to the Jurassic period. In one fossil named  Ginkgo yimaensis, the only difference compared to the present Ginkgo was that its leaves were deeply divided, and its seeds were produced on individual stalks. Other fossils, Genera Yimaia and Karkenia, had more distinct features. The seeds of Yimaia were produced in clusters, and its leaves were divided into narrow digitate lobes. The seeds of Karkenia were grouped like a cone and each was produced on reflexed stalks. Despite these differences, all three had the same fan-shaped leaves as the modern-day Ginkgo.

During the Middle and Late Triassic period, fossils of ginkgo-like plants were first recognized. They were discovered to be most diverse in the Late Triassic, Jurassic, and Early Cretaceous age. 

Fifty million years ago, the fossils show the lobes of the Ginkgo leaves have joined to form the fan-shaped structure of the specimen today. The seeds also evolved from the sprays of stalks producing a single seed to the modern Ginkgoes making few seeds, only one reaching maturity.

The Ginkgo lineage also includes plants with simple, strap-like leaves, and reproductive structures different from the living species. It consisted of plants like Umaltolepis and Umkomasia, suggesting the link between Ginkgo biloba and other fossil seed plants.

What is the history of Ginkgo Biloba?

As the oldest living tree species, Ginkgo biloba dates back to the time of dinosaurs. The trees appeared in specific areas of the northern region until the glacial era at which time they moved towards the south. 

Scientists believed the Ginkgos disappeared with the dinosaurs and drastic climate changes. They were proven wrong when they found the trees in China, where it was first cultivated 1,000 years ago. A story passed down by the generations of Buddhist monks says that their ancestors took care of the trees and planted them surrounding the temples in the mountain areas. In the 14th century, these Ginkgo trees were brought to Korea and Japan by the monks. These cultures also planted them near temples, considered sacred places. In Europe, the trees were first seen in the 1700s. In 1730, Ginkgo trees were cultivated in a botanical garden in Utrecht, Netherlands. In the United Kingdom, Princess Augusta, the mother of King George III, had Ginkgo trees planted in 1759. Later that era in 1784, the tree was brought to the United States.

In 1968, Tralau cited in his book that the oldest classified extant conifer genus, Ginkgo, first appeared 228-225 million years ago in the Lower Jurassic era.

The term “ginkgo” was first mentioned in 1692 by Engelbert Kaempfer, who recounted his time in Japan while he was with the Dutch East India Company, while “Ginkgo biloba” was mentioned in books for the first time in 1771. 

The Chinese have been using Ginkgo leaves and nuts for traditional medicine since the 11th century CE. In 1965, Germany expanded the use of leaf extract to pharmaceutical purposes. France later produced it commercially.

When was the first time that the Maidenhair tree was used for medicine?

The Maidenhair tree was first used for medicine in Germany in 1965. The Dr. Willmar Schwabe Company registered Ginkgo biloba leaves extract as a medication in the same year under the trade name Tebonin. The French company, Beaufour-IPSEN Group, worked with Dr. Willmar Schwabe Company and conducted further pharmacological and clinical studies. The research resulted in a product containing Ginkgo extract, heptaminol, and troxerutin in 1973. Beaufour-IPSEN Group registered the preparation under the trademark Tanakin in 1974. The Ginkgo extract was termed EGb 761 in the early 1980s. Since then, Ginkgo biloba has been manufactured in many countries worldwide for medicinal uses and has often been one of the most popular health supplements on the market.

Why is pre-angiosperm strategy related to Ginkgo Biloba?

Otherwise known as a flowering plant, angiosperm is any of the 3,000 species of the largest and most diverse group in the plant kingdom. Pre-angiosperm refers to a time before flowering plants existed. 

Modern-day Ginkgo biloba trees show a slow rate of genus evolution. Dating back 270 million years, they survived in disturbed streamside environments. They evolved when no flowering plant lived on earth and ferns and cycads populated the water banks. Ginkgo trees grow to a height of 30 feet (10 meters) before lengthening their side branches. This characteristic may be an adaptation to living in such stressful environments.

What do the fossils of Ginkgo Biloba show?

In fossils from more than 200 million years ago, leaves very similar to the leaves of the modern Ginkgo tree are seen. Zhou Zhiyan, a Chinese paleobotanist, looked closely into these leaves. He observed some differences in how the seeds are attached in the fossils, but they’re not very different from the modern Ginkgo trees. Another study conducted by botanist Peter Crane on fossils from about 65 million years ago showed exactly how the seeds were attached to the plant, and it was identical to that of the modern Ginkgo tree. The two fossils studied give us concrete evidence of how little the tree has changed over millions of years.

Where is the habitat and distribution of Ginkgo Biloba?

Ginkgo biloba and other species of the genus were once extensively distributed throughout the world. The earliest fossils came from the Asiatic part of the former USSR. Fossils recovered in the Middle Jurassic era suggest they are from the Laurasian supercontinent. During this time, at least two species existed.

The Cretaceous period saw five or six species in the Northern Hemisphere. They were identified based on the leaf anatomy and geographical distribution.

By Paleocene times, the genus Ginkgo dropped to only one polymorphic species, Ginkgo adiantoides. The species was identical to the modern-day Maidenhair tree. Due to the tropical climate at that time, the trees thrived in the northern regions.

During the Oligocene age, the Earth’s temperature cooled. The species moved to the southern regions. Of note, the fossil sites declined sharply and disappeared from the fossil record of North America seven million years ago.

In the early Pliocene era, the ginkgo genus was widespread in Europe but was again gone by about 2.5 million years ago. Limited fossils were found from this stage and none from the Pleistocene.

The Ginkgo species reappeared 1,000 years ago in China, and all through temperate regions of Asia. In the 1700s, merchants of the Dutch East India Company brought the Ginkgos to Europe. Later in the same century, Ginkgo trees spread to the Americas.

Ginkgo biloba trees have seen the evolution of the world. They have seen climate change and countless other flora and fauna species disappear, yet Ginkgos have stood the test of time and survived.

Where does the Maidenhair tree exist today?

Today, the Maidenhair tree continues to grow primarily in the east and southwest China and in the mountains surrounding the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Ginkgos also grow in deciduous forests and valleys with silty soil in areas below a 3,280 feet elevation. Because they thrive in temperate areas and resist pollution, they are seen in large cities in Asia, Europe, and the eastern part of the United States. It is the most widely planted tree in New York City. The majority of the trees are cultivated in farms for medicinal purposes.

 

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What factors that make the Maidenhair tree grow faster?

The Maidenhair tree offers the perfect shade for those who don’t want to deal with sunburn. With minimal care, it can grow into an elegant and beautiful plant that will provide years of enjoyment in viewing its leafy branches or small white flowers adorning its trunks. The factors that make Ginkgo trees grow faster are listed below.

  1. Sun exposure: The Maidenhair tree needs at least 4 hours of direct sunlight exposure daily. Beyond those hours, it is still safe for it to grow. 
  2. Soil: The Ginkgo thrives in soil pH around 3.7-7.0. While the plant grows in most soil types, it flourishes most in moist, but well-drained sandy soil. 
  3. Water: Good irrigation is needed for new Ginkgo trees. They need to be watered once every day for the first 7-10 days and gradually decrease watering for 4-6 weeks. Note that a young Maidenhair tree needs regular watering during the growing season for the first 2 years.
  4. Weather: Ginkgo trees can tolerate wet and drought periods but do not thrive well in hot and dry seasons.
  5. Pruning: Cutting the branches of Maidenhair trees helps stimulate the growth of the tree. It is best to prune in the late fall or winter when the tree is dormant, giving it the energy to grow and produce flowers and leaves.

How do people cultivate the Maidenhair tree?

Despite its putrid smell come fall (when the nuts fall to the ground), people continue to plant the Maidenhair tree for its medicinal benefits and natural beauty. 

The therapeutic prospects of the Chinese Ginkgo biloba’s leaves are the primary reason for its widespread cultivation. What started as a form of traditional medicine has now developed into a well-researched and proven supplement for brain health and many other health uses. 

Another benefit is its ornamental value. The Ginkgo plant’s reach doesn’t just stop in paintings and jar decorations. It is also a common bonsai specimen. 

On a larger scale, these Ginkgo trees are planted in large cities. They give an ideal shade, are fit for lining busy walkways, and serve as focal points in gardens and parks. Because of their hardy nature, they thrive even in a metropolis, withstanding pollution and stress. As a result, the neighborhood is beautified, traffic is reduced, walkability is improved, and spending and property value is increased.

There are several ways to grow a Maiden tree. One option is growing it from a seed. While it is a viable option, it can be somewhat difficult. The seeds need to be stratified for 2 months to break their dormancy. If this is not properly done, the seed will not grow when planted. Another method, the more common one, is growing the tree from cuttings. This route is unique, as the new tree will have the same characteristics as the parent tree. 

Maidenhair trees are easy to grow, but there are obstacles to face: improper soil depth, air pockets in the soil, overwatering, and inappropriate habitat. Growing the tree is inexpensive and doesn’t require much time. Growers just need to make sure they provide the correct nutrients, soil, water, and sunlight needed to make cultivating the plant profitable.

Ginkgo trees grow in areas with a temperate climate and deep soil. They are adaptable and resistant to pollution and disease. Because of their resiliency and unique leaf structure, they are widely planted in large cities such as Asia, Europe, and the eastern part of the United States.

How did Ginkgo Biloba Trees survive nuclear bombs?

Ginkgo biloba trees are the oldest plant species that still exist today. The robust and unique organization of its cell tissues creates a compartment immune to destruction. Its bark serves as a shell to safeguard the softer phloem which carries sugars to feed the other cells. It also protects the xylem, the wood-producing layer, and the cambium from which the xylem and phloem grow.

In 1945, Ginkgo trees in Hiroshima, Japan were exposed to nuclear explosives. The leaves and branches were wiped out leaving the tree bark scorched black, but the trees survived. The tree’s hard shell protected the more important life-forming parts within. Ginkgos also possess the genetic ability to combat aging which contributed to speedy rebirth, sprouting new leaves in order for the tree to grow.

Research performed in China and in the United States has looked into the genetic expression in the leaves and cambium – the layer of stem cells between the external bark and internal wood. The expressions of genes related to the aging of the plant increased in dying leaves, but those in the cambium did not change.

Further research was done to check whether the trees are vulnerable to specific stressors as they age. They examined genes for pathogen resistance and antimicrobial compounds. No difference in gene expression has been seen in trees of different ages.

What is the average lifespan for Ginkgo Biloba?

The average lifespan for Ginkgo biloba is approximately 1,000 years. Research teams in China and the United States have gathered tissue samples of Ginkgo trees with the estimated ages of 20, 200, and 600 years. After examining the thin layer of tissue producing the outer bark and inner wood, the teams found out that Ginkgo trees do not go through a normal process of aging. They also discovered that the older trees produced less auxin and more abscisic acid, a hormone that fights stress. Annual rings were also thinner in the older trees. However, they did not find any difference in photosynthetic activity, germination rate, or gene activity.

What is the longest-lived Maidenhair tree?

The longest-lived Maidenhair tree ever recorded is 3,500 years old. In Japan, the oldest living Ginkgo tree grows in the cemetery of Zenpuku-Ji Buddhist temple in Azabu Ward, Tokyo. The tree survived the air raids of the Second World War and is now growing naturally without human help. In the Western hemisphere, Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philadelphia is host to the oldest living Maidenhair tree planted in 1785.

What are the use-cases of Ginkgo Biloba? 

The Ginkgo biloba tree and its parts have different uses: culinary, medical research, treatment, traditional medicine, and supplement industry. Due to the benefits of Ginkgo Biloba, most primarily is its use in brain health.

1. Culinary

The Ginkgo nuts are incorporated in East Asian cuisine as a garnish. The smelly outer layer is removed and the inner nuts are used in a wide variety of sweet and savory dishes. In China, Ginkgo nuts are used in congee, and on special occasions, like weddings and Chinese New Year. They should be taken in conservative amounts as eating them in large quantities over a long period can cause poisoning. The neurotoxin, 4’-O-methylpyridoxine, naturally occurs in Ginkgo Biloba’s nuts and the leaves in lesser amounts. It remains even after cooking as it is heat-stable. If eaten in substantial amounts, it may cause convulsions.

2. Medical Research

Much research has been done on Ginkgo’s effect on neurological health as an enhancer. There is some supporting research on memory, attention, and other areas, but more studies are needed for a more complete picture of all its effects on the human body.

3. Treatment

In the studies on Ginkgo biloba extract, results have shown promise in treating disease and the symptoms accompanying illness. 

  1. A dose of 240-360mg of Egb-761 per day proved to be more effective than Donepezil 10 mg.
  2. There is a 29.6% reduction of Myeloperoxidase in persons with metabolic syndrome.
  3. There is a reduction of 17.0+/-5.5% in LDL oxidation in high-risk individuals.
  4. Diabetic patients benefit from a decreased urinary albumin over eight weeks of taking low-dose Ginkgo. 

4. Traditional medicine

This refers to practices, knowledge, beliefs, and the experience of using plants, mineral-based medicine, and spiritual forces native to each culture to maintain, improve, diagnose, or treat physical and mental illnesses. Chinese traditional medicine uses Ginkgo biloba. At first, seeds named Bai-Guo were used; and later, in 1505 AD, they added the leaves. They used Ginkgo to treat circulatory problems, asthma, vertigo, fatigue, and tinnitus. In Iran, people used the plant to improve memory loss associated with abnormalities in blood circulation.

5. Supplement Industry

Ginkgo biloba is used primarily as a supplement for enhancing cognitive function. EGb-761 is a ginkgo extract used commonly in research that aims to standardize the flavonoid and terpenoid composition of the plant, as stated by A. Biber in Pharmacokinetics of Ginkgo biloba Extracts. In a study on the effects of Ginkgo biloba extract on forearm hemodynamics by J. Mehlsen and team, Gibidyl Forte, which contains 7.2mg terpenoids and 28.8mg ginkgoflavonglucoside, healthy volunteers took the supplement in three divided doses over six weeks. Blood flow improved on week 3, but the pill had no impact on blood pressure. 

What does Ginkgo Biloba represent to society?

The Japanese consider Ginkgo biloba as “the bearer of hope,” after six Ginkgo trees survived the Hiroshima bombing in 1945. This prominence extended to the Ginkgo leaf as the symbol of Tokyo, the capital city. Several Japanese universities also use the leaf as their logo; for example, Tokyo University and Osaka University.

For bonsai enthusiasts, Ginkgos are a popular subject. They can be kept artificially small and tended over centuries.

 

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What is the prominence of Ginkgo Biloba for the Japanese Tea Ceremony?

Ginkgo biloba is prominent in Japanese culture. The ginkgo leaf is the symbol of the Urasenke School of Japanese Tea Ceremony. In 2019, a Hiroshima survivor, and the mayor of San Francisco, planted Ginkgo biloba trees in the Japanese Tea Garden located in the Golden Gate Park. These Ginkgo trees were descendants of those that survived the Hiroshima bombings and were planted as a reminder of the importance of nuclear disarmament.

What does the Ginkgo Leaf symbolize?

Due to the steadfast nature of the tree, the Ginkgo leaf symbolizes a primordial force, a symbol of longevity to the society. It also signifies peace, hope, and vitality. In 1815, Goethe, a famous 17th-century poet and scientist, used the Ginkgo leaf to symbolize the affairs of love. He explained, poetically, that people do not know if the Ginkgo leaf is one or two leaves such that he did not know if he and his lover were one or two selves.

What is the prominence of Maidenhair for Buddhism and Confucianism?

The religions of Buddhism and Confucianism consider the Maidenhair tree as sacred. The Buddha’s Dragon tree has always been depicted as a Ginkgo. The tree also symbolizes resilience, health, and longevity. These trees are often planted near temples where they are seen for protection against bad fortune.

Does the Maidenhair Tree Bear Fruit?

No, the Maidenhair tree doesn’t bear fruit. It is a gymnosperm or a vascular plant that reproduces by exposed seed or ovule. The female tree produces small, spherical, flesh-covered seeds called ginkgo nuts. In its purest form, people shy away from the nuts as they emit a distinct smell like that of vomit. As for the leaves, the taste is that of cheese and can be sweet or bitter.

Does the Maidenhair tree have a toxic effect?

Yes, there is evidence both from experimental studies and human case reports on the toxicological effects of ginkgo seeds and leaves. The Maidenhair tree leaf has now been classified as a possible human carcinogen. 

Moreover, the Maidenhair tree has been linked to cases of subdural hematoma. A study conducted on possible subdural effects when used alongside other drugs, such as Lisinopril and aspirin, showed patients ending up with ecchymosis of the eye and a diagnosis of subdural hematoma after a CAT scan. Ginkgo biloba contains the component ginkgolide B, which potently inhibits platelet action. Since it is primarily used to enhance memory and dementia by augmenting cerebral blood flow, studies conclude that Ginkgo biloba has caused or predisposed patients to subdural hematoma. People with bleeding disorders should be cautious when using Ginkgo supplements.

How to identify a Ginkgo tree?

Identifying a Ginkgo tree entails the following:

  1. Examine the trunk: Ginkgo trees have a grayish fissured bark. Older trees will have deep furrows and a corky texture. Underneath lies a light-colored wood that is soft and weak. As the tree grows older, the bark gradually turns brown and develops ridges.
  2. Check the branches: The branches of a Ginkgo tree increase in length from the growth of shoots. Spur shoots develop on second-year growth from the axils of the leaves.
  3. Measure the height: Ginkgos are tall trees and can grow anywhere from 65 to 115 feet (20 to 35 meters) tall and 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 meters) wide.
  4. Inspect the leaves: The tree has uniquely fan-shaped leaves with veins radiating out to the leaf blade. The leaves are green in summer, yellow in autumn, and fall off during winter, leaving the Ginkgo tree bare.
  5. Notice the nuts: Ginkgo’s fruit-like nuts measure 0.5 to 0.7 feet (1.5 to 2 cm) long. They appear attractive with a yellow-brown, soft outer layer. When they fall to the ground, they emit a distinctive rancid butter or vomit smell.
  6. Confirm the habitat/location: This tree lives in temperate regions around the world. They grow in areas with direct sunlight and survive best in sandy, well-drained soil. 

Resources

  1. Chen, Y., Fu, C., Wu, Z., Xu, H., Liu, H., Schneider, H., & Lin, J. (2021). Ginkgo biloba. Trends in Genetics, 37(5), 488–489. doi:10.1016/j.tig.2021.01.009
  2. Xi, Z., Rest, J., & Davis, C. (2013). Phylogenomics and Coalescent Analyses Resolve Extant Seed Plant Relationships. Plos ONE, 8(11), e80870. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0080870
  3. Wang, L., Cui, J., Jin, B., Zhao, J., Xu, H., & Lu, Z. et al. (2020). Multifeature analyses of vascular cambial cells reveal longevity mechanisms in old Ginkgo biloba trees. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, 117(4), 2201-2210. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1916548117
  4. Guan, R., Zhao, Y., Zhang, H., Fan, G., Liu, X., & Zhou, W. et al. (2016). Draft genome of the living fossil Ginkgo biloba. Gigascience, 5(1). doi: 10.1186/s13742-016-0154-1
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