How long have ginkgo trees been around

Ginkgo biloba: The tree that outlived the dinosaurs

Our ancient Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest and most extraordinary trees in our Gardens.

Commonly known as the maidenhair tree, it was planted here at Kew centuries ago in 1762, only three years after our original botanic garden was established.

Growing near The Hive, our Ginkgo biloba has deeply cracked brown bark and beautiful fan-shaped, two-lobed green leaves that turn a magnificent golden-yellow in autumn.

But what else makes this tree so remarkable?

One of Kew’s original trees

This Ginkgo is one of Kew's 'Old Lions', the few surviving trees planted in the early botanic garden started by Princess Augusta, the mother of King George III, in 1759.

Native to China, it was one of the first of its species to be planted in the UK.

Even though our maidenhair tree is as old as the Gardens themselves, it’s a baby in terms of the lifespan of the species.

Did you know? The oldest recorded maidenhair tree is a whopping 3,500 years old.

The 'Old Lion' maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba) at Kew © RBG Kew

Sole survivor

The Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living tree species in the world.

It's the sole survivor of an ancient group of trees that date back to before dinosaurs roamed the Earth – creatures that lived between 245 and 66 million years ago.

It’s so ancient, the species is known as a 'living fossil'.

Fossils of Ginkgo leaves have been discovered that date back more than 200 million years. They are almost identical to maidenhair tree leaves of today.

Ginkgo biloba leaves in summer © Igor Sheremetyev Ginkgo biloba leaves in autumn © RBG Kew

Unique by nature

This stunning tree is a very solitary species nowadays.

Amazingly, it is the only member of its genus (Ginkgo), which is the only genus in its family (Ginkgoaceae), which is the only family in its order (Ginkgoales), which is the only order in its subclass (Ginkgoidae).

The tree is also the only living connection between ferns and conifers.

The seasonal showstopper, the maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba), exhibits vibrant yellow leaves. Endangered in the wild, our oldest specimen is believed to have been in our Gardens since 1762. Andrew McRobb © RBG Kew

Evolutionary distinct and endangered

Ginkgo biloba is rated as Endangered (EN) according to IUCN Red List criteria.

The singular species has also been given a high priority conservation status, as determined by the Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) method.

Species are ranked based on their evolutionary distinctiveness and the extinction risks they face according to IUCN Red List assessments.

The maidenhair tree has the second highest EDGE score on the EDGE list for gymnosperms (a small group of naked-seed-bearing plants of just over 1,000 species), and is number one for evolutionary distinctiveness (ED).

Ginkgo biloba flesh-covered seeds © Igor Sheremetyev

Living gymnosperms (made up of four plant groups: ginkgo, conifers, cycads, and gnetophytes) are one of the most threatened groups of living organisms on the planet.

Though cultivated maidenhair trees are seen throughout the world, they are rare in the wild with only a few natural populations in China.

Here at Kew, we are monitoring and carrying out conservation assessments of the species as part of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants. This will help reveal trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.

Did you know? Ginkgo biloba trees can reach 40m in height.

Fallen autumn leaves at Kew, Andrew McRobb © RBG Kew

Smelly seeds

Female maidenhair trees start bearing seeds when they reach maturity and are fertilised by pollen from a male tree.

The large seeds have a rounded fleshy outer coat and drop to the ground in autumn. But as this outer layer decays, it emits a horrible smell like rancid butter.

Because of this, male plants are often chosen for ornamental garden use.

We collect these seeds from our Gardens during autumn to produce seedlings and rootstocks for grafting.

These seedlings can be grown in our Arboretum Nursery – after two years the plants can be as tall as 1.5m.

Find out more about where Kew's trees are born in the video below...

Name game

The Latin species name ‘biloba’ comes from the shape of the distinct leaves, meaning ‘two lobes’.

Its common English name ‘maidenhair tree' derives from the similarity of the leaves to those of maidenhair ferns (Adiantum).

The royal touch

Our 'Old Lion' Ginkgo tree isn't the only one thriving here – several specimens are growing in the Gardens.

One of these, near the Orangery, was planted by none other than Her Majesty The Queen in 2009, to celebrate 250 years of the Gardens.

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The Life Story of The Oldest Tree on Earth



Revered for its beauty and its longevity, the ginkgo is a living fossil, unchanged for more than 200 million years. Botanist Peter Crane, who has a written what he calls a biography of this unique tree, talks to Yale Environment 360 about the inspiring history and cultural significance of the ginkgo.

By Roger Cohn • May 1, 2013

Millions of urban dwellers know the ginkgo primarily as a street tree, with elegant, fan-shaped leaves, foul-smelling fruits, and nuts prized for their reputed medicinal properties. But botanist Peter Crane sees the ginkgo as much more — an oddity in nature because it is a single species with no known living relatives; a living fossil that has been essentially unchanged for more than 200 million years; and an inspiring example of how humans can help a species survive.

Crane, who is dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, has written what he describes as a biography of the oldest tree on earth, a living link to the age of the dinosaurs. His new book, Ginkgo, tells the story of a tree that over centuries has made its way from China across Asia and around the world and today is found along streets everywhere from Seoul to New York.

Peter Crane

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Crane explains what makes the ginkgo unique and what makes it smell, how its toughness and resilience has enabled it to thrive, and what the tree’s long history says about human life on earth. The ginkgo, which co-existed with the dinosaurs, “really puts our own species — let alone our individual existence — into a broader context,” says Crane.

Yale Environment 360: You’ve been studying ginkgo trees for a long time. How did you come to develop an interest in them?

Peter Crane: I think that anyone who is seriously interested in plants inevitably comes across ginkgo pretty early in their training, because there are only five living groups of seed plants, and ginkgo is one of them. And ginkgo is the only one that consists of just one species. So it’s an important plant in any botanist’s view of the plant world — you inevitably run across it early in your training. The other thing is that it has such a distinctive leaf — once you see it, you don’t forget it. It’s thoroughly memorable.

e360: You’ve mentioned that ginkgo is something of a biological oddity in that it’s a single species with no living relatives. That’s somewhat unusual in the plant and animal world, isn’t it?

Crane: Yes. When we think about flowering plants, there are about 350,000 living species. And in an evolutionary sense, they’re equivalent to that one species of ginkgo. They’re all more closely related to each other than they are to anything else. But the ginkgo is solitary and unique, not very obviously related to any living plant. One of the points I wanted to draw out in the book is that in the past there were a variety of ginkgo-like plants, but this is the only one surviving.

e360: You describe the ginkgo as a “living fossil,” in the sense that in many ways it’s unchanged in more than 200 million years. How do we know that?

Crane: If you look at fossils from more than 200 million years ago, you can see leaves that are very very similar to modern ginkgo leaves. But you have to look more closely to really assess whether those leaves were produced by plants that are identical to modern ginkgo. And that work has been done now, by my colleague [Chinese paleobotanist] Zhou Zhiyan, who has worked on fossil material from China. And what he’s noticed is that there are some differences in the ways that the seeds are attached in these fossil plants — but in the grand scheme of things, they’re not very different.

With the fossils that I’ve worked on myself, from about 65 million years ago, we were able to determine exactly how the seeds were attached to the plant, and they were attached in an identical way to modern ginkgo. If we could go back in a time machine, maybe we would find some differences, but I suspect not. 

e360: And the oldest fossil record?

Crane: A little over 200 million years old. So it is a good example of a living fossil, like the coelacanth, which has also changed very little over millions of years. 

Ginkgo leaves in the autumn. AJYI/Ko.Yo

e360: Most of us know ginkgo from its very distinctive, fan-shaped leaves, and also from its very distinctive smell. What is with the smell?

Crane: It’s the outer part of the seed that produces the smell, and it smells, to put it bluntly, like vomit. More than likely, it reflects some sort of adaptation or modification in its dispersal biology. Probably either now or in the past the smell has been attractive to animals. You hear stories of dogs, for example, eating ginkgo seeds — sometimes with not a terribly happy outcome in that they don’t feel so good afterward. But it must be part of a dispersal system. The interesting question is, are the things that adapted to disperse it still around? Or are they extinct? 

There’s this wonderful idea that [Daniel] Janzen and [Paul] Martin published about how many neo-tropical fruits don’t appear to have any dispersers in the contemporary fauna. And their idea was that as many large mammals went extinct about 10,000 years ago, many plants actually lost their most important dispersal agents. So in a sense, the plants have continued to live on, while the dispersers themselves have already gone extinct. 

e360: So their theory would say that the ginkgo smell would have attracted dinosaurs to eat it?

Crane: Yes, or more likely some mammals that died out much more recently. But the idea is that the tree now could be out of phase with its dispersal agents. There are records of the seeds being eaten by badgers and so on, and as I talk to people it’s clear that the seeds do still move around. So something’s moving them. And you know, the seeds are very attractive — once that smell’s gone, they look a bit like a pistachio. And they have a nice nutritious meat in them, so they would attract animals like squirrels.

e360: When are the seeds on the ground? Is that the late fall?

Crane: They’re usually on the ground in the late fall here in temperate North America. So the trees are dropping their seeds in late November, December. And then often, what saves us from the smell is that they all freeze. 

e360: When was the ginkgo first cultivated by humans?

Crane: Our best estimate is about 1,000 years ago in China, which is somewhat late for the cultivation of many plants in China. There’s a lot of Chinese literature from before 1,000 years ago, and it doesn’t mention ginkgo, while it does mention a lot of other plants. The evidence points to the fact that ginkgo was probably always a rather rare tree, and that it first attracted the attention of people about a thousand years ago. Probably originally as a nut — a rather unusual nut tree. And then it was moved around and grown for its nuts in China, before eventually — maybe in the 14th or 15th centuries — making its way up the coastal trade routes into Korea and Japan.

e360: And how and when did it appear in the West?

Crane: The first Westerner to encounter ginkgo — or at least the first Westerner to encounter it and write about it — was Engelbert Kaempfer, who was with the Dutch East India Company at their trading station in southern Japan in 1692. When he returned, he wrote his account of his time in Japan. He is the one who first uses the word in the Western literature — ginkgo — and he provides an illustration of it. But probably living plants weren’t introduced into Europe until a few decades after that — perhaps in the 1730s, but I think more likely in the 1750s.

e360: Ginkgoes have long been valued for their healing properties, their medicinal properties, particularly for helping memory. And we see today ginkgo being sold pretty widely in health food stores. Did the medicinal use of ginkgo emerge in China, and if so, how recent is its move to the West?

Crane: That’s a very interesting question, because if you look and see how ginkgo is used medicinally in China, it’s mainly the seeds that are used. Yet, the Ginkgo biloba that you buy in health food stores here is an extract of the leaves. And this is pretty much a Western phenomenon. So this is a use that we’ve invented for it in the West, rather than a use that has come to us from China. The medicinal uses in the East and the supposed medicinal uses in the West have gone in different directions, using two different parts of the plant — mainly the seeds in the East, and mainly the leaves in the West.

e360: Are there any scientific studies that looked at the efficacy of the medicinal properties, like for memory enhancement — either for the leaves or the seeds?

Crane: The most work’s been done on the leaves in the West. And I think it’s true to say the results are equivocal. I don’t think there’s really strong evidence for its efficacy, but on the other hand, there are conflicting results. There’s some evidence that it’s helpful in some ways, but the large-scale trials that we expect from our drugs these days have been unable to be really definitive about that. It’s a bit of an enigma in that respect — it’s difficult to prove its value.

e360: You write in the book about how the ginkgo’s resilience has enabled it to become quite a popular street tree — it can take a lot of abuse. What makes the ginkgo so resilient as a tree? 

Crane: It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly does it. But the leaves are particularly unattractive to pests, so it doesn’t suffer from the pest problems that some trees do. And it seems to survive in a street setting: its roots aren’t getting much oxygen, they’re getting a lot of salt and goodness knows what else is getting poured on them, and it seems relatively resistant to those problems. So it’s just a good old tough tree, and it is incredibly widely planted.

e360: How widely, and in what places is it most common?

Crane: Well, it’s particularly widespread in the East: you see it all over Tokyo, you see it all over Seoul. But you also see it all over Manhattan. Once you start to recognize ginkgo trees in the urban landscape, you start to see them everywhere. 

An early Western botanical illustration of Ginkgo biloba, published in Europe in 1835.

e360: You mentioned in the book that the female seeds are the ones that smell. In New York City, the parks department has a policy of planting only males?

Crane: Yes. I think today most people would plant males. Most reputable nurseries will sell only males. 

e360: One of the things you get into in the book is the broader discussion of the importance of street trees. One of the benefits, which I had never thought about before, is how trees along a street make it feel narrower and cause drivers to go more slowly. It makes sense, but I had never thought of it. Can you describe some of the other benefits that street trees bring to a city or an urban setting?

Crane: I think most obviously they help reduce the urban heat island effect. They provide shade; they make the place a lot more comfortable. But I think there are a lot of intangible benefits too: people want to walk in the shade, they want to be out in the shade. And so trees create a less sterile environment and encourage people to want to be outside, with all the benefits that come from people being out and about — from having kids playing outside, to having neighbors keep an eye on each other’s houses, to encouraging people to linger in a shopping area that they would otherwise walk right through. 

e360: You certainly see ginkgos everywhere, especially in New York City. You tell a story about a Harlem homeowner who has a ginkgo tree in front of her house and finds people in it regardless of the smell. Can you explain?

Crane: Yes, in many places where ginkgo is planted in the West, people who’ve known ginkgo or know about ginkgo through their cultural background, will often seek out the trees in the fall and collect the seeds. Particularly with people from Korea or China or Japan, it’s quite common. You see them in Central Park [in New York]. I’ve seen them in Chicago. You see them all over. And I’m sure none of those seeds are sold into commerce. I’m sure those seeds are used locally because people enjoy eating them. And sometimes people won’t wait for the seeds to fall. They’ll take sticks and bang them up into the branches to try to get the seeds to come down. 

e360: I was surprised to learn from your book that the ginkgo nut is potentially toxic?

Crane: Yes, it does have some toxicity to it. It’s generally recommended that people don’t eat too many of these seeds. A small proportion of the population seems to have a bad reaction to ginkgo, but it’s a very small proportion. I’ve eaten ginkgo seeds many times. 

e360: You actually have an ancient species of ginkgo, Ginkgo cranei, named after you, right?

Crane: Well, yes, that’s the fossil ginkgo from North Dakota that I worked on as a researcher, which a colleague quite recently very kindly named after me. But in a way it’ll be interesting to see if the name survives, because giving it a separate name implies that it’s actually different from modern ginkgo. And the study did point out a few very subtle differences. However, it remains to be seen whether those differences hold up. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see my name get synonymized back into Ginkgo biloba at some point.

e360: By distributing ginkgo around the planet, humans have, unlike with many other species, helped ensure the ginkgo’s survival. Is that the right way to look at it?

Crane: Yes, I think that’s right. I think by cultivating plants like ginkgo that are very rare in the wild, we’ve sort of taken out insurance for their long-term survival. In China, for a long time there was a lot of discussion about whether there were any native ginkgos at all, or whether all of them had the hand of people in their past. I think the consensus now is that probably a couple of wild, original populations still exist in China. But it’s very difficult to exclude the possibility that even those have been aided by people. 

That is another message in the book. Obviously we should try to preserve animals and plants in their native habitats, where they’re part of a functioning integrated ecosystem. But in the same way that we’ve used ex situ methods for conserving large mammals, charismatic animals, I think conservation through cultivation is an important part of the toolkit for preserving plant diversity for the future.

e360: You’ve talked about how one of the things that drew you to learn more about the ginkgo was the sense of timelessness that its history gives you and how that helps us think about our place in the world. 

Crane: Obviously, we’re evolved to live in the present, so we’re very focused on the short-term. One of our biggest shortcomings is that we can’t see the long-term, and we see that in the way we respond to all kinds of environmental issues. So reflecting on a plant like ginkgo that was around in very different ecosystems when the dinosaurs were on the planet, that has been around for hundreds of millions of years, really puts our own species — let alone our own individual existence — into a broader context.

It’s a bit like those diagrams that you see, where there’s a picture of the Milky Way and there’s a little sign that says, “You are here.” Well, it’s the same idea. Guess what? We’re not at the center of everything. And guess what? The universe doesn’t revolve around us. And guess what? We’re only here for a short time, whereas some things have been here for a really long time. That ought to encourage us to take the long view as we think about our relationship to the natural world. 

Ginkgo biloba. A coeval of dinosaurs in KPI [Ginkgo biloba L.]

A strange tree surrounded by a low fence grows on the back side of the western wing of the main building. In autumn, it sheds its strange, golden-yellow leaves, which are collected by children and adults in a race. And there is something to be surprised: the leaves are fan-shaped, with venation, similar in pattern to ancient ferns, with one or more notches along the upper corrugated edge.

This plant - Ginkgo biloba L. (Ginkgo biloba) - is the oldest tree species currently growing on Earth. In the Jurassic period, more than 200 million years ago, they grew in Asia, Europe, North America and even in Greenland, and reached their greatest distribution in the Mesozoic, during the reign of dinosaurs, ichthyosaurs and pterosaurs. Therefore, it is called "living fossil plant".


The name "ginkgo" comes from the Chinese plant name gin-kyo, which means "silver fruit". Ancient Chinese monks planted this tree in "holy places", near monasteries. They believed that a plant with original two-bladed fan-shaped leaves symbolizes two categories of Chinese philosophy - yin and yang, and is a symbol of wisdom and concentration, stability and longevity. Until now, in China, Japan, Korea, ginkgo is called the "tree of youth."

Ginkgo biloba is the forerunner of conifers. But unlike young female relatives, contemporaries, there are no needles in ginkgo. Its leaves are needles, fused, in autumn they turn yellow and fall off. And the fruits of ginkgo are not at all like cones: in shape they are more reminiscent of an apricot. Ginkgo is the only living representative of the "transitional link" between ferns and conifers.

Its seeds are covered with a fleshy covering (like plums). The taste of the seeds is sweetish - a cross between a baked potato and a chestnut. The pulp of fruits and rotting fallen leaves of female specimens have an unpleasant odor, so female plants are not used for cultural plantings. But in Korea, Japan and China, female trees are considered the best because they produce edible fruits.

In ginkgo, male and female reproductive organs are formed on different trees. This is the only tree in the world that is fertilized by the fall of the fruit, and not with the help of wind and insects, like other plants. Retreating from Kyiv in 1943, the invaders grabbed a very valuable female specimen of ginkgo biloba from the botanical garden, which slowed down the reproduction of these relic trees in Kyiv for decades. Ginkgo can bloom in spring or autumn. In some years, it does not grow at all, while in others, the annual growth can be up to 1 m in height. In good conditions, the first 30 years of ginkgo grows from May to August, adding an average of 30 cm per year in growth. The tree begins to bear fruit at the age of 25-30 years. Before this age, it is impossible to visually determine the sex of the specimen. In order for fertilization to occur, male and female trees must grow side by side (sometimes even a branch of one tree is specially grafted onto the trunk of another).

The ginkgo trunk is mainly made of wood and resembles the trunks of modern conifers in structure, but, unlike them, does not have resin canals in the wood and does not form resin. Ginkgo has a very simple vascular system: the main vessel is divided into two. This vascular pattern is unique to ginkgo. Ginkgo wood is very light and light, smooth and easy to work with. It is used to create wooden sculptures and objects for the tea ceremony. Paper is also made from wood. Ginkgo wood is fire resistant.

Incredible resilience

Ginkgo trees are known for their unique ability to survive. They tolerate poisonous smog, acid rain, soils poor in organic and mineral substances. They are not afraid of bacteria, viruses, fungal diseases and insects, so ginkgo can be successfully grown as an ornamental plant in large industrial cities. For example, in Nagasaki there is a tree that is over 1200 years old.

Ginkgo 45 m high and 9m in diameter. It is believed that its age is approaching the 2000-year mark. In a huge fire in 1923 in Tokyo, the ginkgo tree survived when other trees were destroyed by fire. And the tree that fell under the nuclear bombing in Hiroshima during the Second World War and was charred later gave new shoots!

European scientists discovered a living gingko tree in 1690 (earlier they had only seen plant prints on stones). "Living fossil" - called him Charles Darwin.

In 1754 the plant came to England. A tree is still preserved there, with the help of which the features of ginkgo fertilization were discovered and studied.

Poetry pages

Ginkgo is a respected and beloved plant in China. Trees over the age of 100 years are included in special protection lists. There is a tradition to plant ginkgo on the occasion of the birth of a child, wedding, housewarming, etc.

By the 11th century. in China, ginkgo was known as "duck feet", because its leaves are very similar to the feet of one of the most beloved Chinese birds - mandarin ducks. Later, the tree was called "King Sun Shu" - "grandfather and grandson", since only his grandson can collect the first fruits from the tree planted by his grandfather. The tree has different names in other countries.

In Japan, the tree is called "ginkgo", "white fruit". In the Netherlands - "temple tree", "Japanese walnut tree". The British call gingko "girl's hair tree". Its leaves remind them of one of the most delicate ferns known as "Venus Hair". The French dubbed the ginkgo "the forty-ecu tree". This name has come from 1780 from the Parisian amateur botanist Petigny. He managed to buy from one of the English gardeners a pot with five small ginkgo shoots for 25 guineas, that is, 40 crowns each. These trees became the progenitors of almost all gingkos now growing in France.

In Germany it is called "Ginkgo Tree", "Goethe Tree", "White Fruit", "Golden Fruit Tree", "Silver Apricot", "Japanese Walnut Tree". The name "Goethe tree" owes its origin to the poem of the great German poet "Ginkgo biloba". It was written in 1815 (published in 1819 in the so-called "Zuleika book") and dedicated to the poet's favorite, Marianne von Willemer (Zuleika). In the poem, the ginkgo leaf is a poetic representation of the author's idea that two can be one.


Dieses Baums Blatt, der von Osten
Meinem Garten anvertraut,
Gibt geheimen Sinn zu kosten,
Wie's den Wissenden erbaut.
Ist es ein lebendig Wesen,
Das sich in sich selbst getrennt?
Sind es zwei, die sich erlesen,
Da man sie als eines kennt?
Solche Fragen zu erwidern,
Fand ich wohl den rechten Sinn;
Fuhlst du nicht an meinen Liedern,
Da ich eins und doppelt bin?

This leaf was from the East
My modest one is brought into the garden,
And for the seeing eye
He reveals a secret meaning.
Is there a living being here
Divided in half,
Or, on the contrary, two at once
Appear in one to us?
And riddle and doubts
Solve my verse alone: ​​
Reread my creations,
I myself am dually one.

Medical use

The first mention of the medicinal effect of the leaves of ginkgo biloba is found in ancient recipes of traditional Chinese medicine, written in 2800 BC.

The first publication for the internal use of the leaves of the Ginkgo tree for medicinal purposes dates back to 1505 AD. Tea from the leaves was recommended for coughing, choking, for the speedy recovery of strength during the recovery period. The modern Chinese pharmacopoeia suggests using Ginkgo leaves for the treatment of diseases of the heart and lungs, etc.

Today, drugs developed on its basis are included in the arsenal of the most effective means of modern medicine. According to the European Health Organization, doctors prescribe ginkgo preparations to their patients especially willingly and often.

Ginkgo biloba normalizes cerebral and coronary circulation, restores memory, hearing, vision, speech and motor functions deteriorated as a result of age-related changes, eliminates circulatory insufficiency (including atherosclerotic and age-related), restores the elasticity and strength of blood vessels, prevents thrombosis of cerebral and coronary vessels , contributes to the normalization of the metabolism of brain tissues, improves the nutrition of the heart muscle, has restorative properties, helps maintain the integrity and permeability of the cell wall, prevents asthma attacks, and has a calming and antispasmodic effect. All available scientific information about ginkgo points to its ability to increase lifespan.

Ginkgo today

Ginkgo seeds called "silver almonds" or "white nuts" are now available in stores in China and Japan. They are eaten fried, dried or baked, used as a seasoning for dishes of vegetables, rice, mushrooms. Ginkgo seeds contain only 3% fat, a lot of protein, starch and nicotinic acid. They are exported from China to other eastern countries, where they are sold in specialized supermarkets, shops and green shops.

The world's largest ginkgo plantations are located in Southern California. Every year, more than 1.1 thousand tons of dry leaves are sent by ship to Europe. There are also small ginkgo plantations in France. The leaves are processed and the extract is made in Germany, Sweden, Ireland and France.

Ginkgo is also used for bonsai cultivation. There are two types of bonsai - with aerial roots and fruiting, both are very good.

This is an unusual tree that lives next to us.

Why ginkgo lives so long

Ginkgo ages slowly and very selectively, not allowing their immunity to deteriorate.

Trees generally live a long time, but among them there are absolutely amazing centenarians. For example, ginkgo biloba, or Ginkgo biloba can live for more than 3000 years - here it is not far from immortality. Obviously, ginkgo has some mechanisms that help resist aging, and researchers from Beijing Forestry University, Yangzhou University and other scientific centers in China and the United States managed to partially decipher these mechanisms.

Ginkgo leaves. (Photo: Bryan Jones /

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Li Wang ( Li Wang ) and his colleagues studied the structure of 34 ginkgoes ranging in age from 3 to 667 years; wood samples were taken from living and healthy trees, but, according to portal Science , did this by a special method that caused minimal trouble to the trees. Tree growth rings show the rate at which a tree has grown from year to year, and trees usually slow down over time. However, even after hundreds of years, ginkgo continued to grow in the same way as they grew, and sometimes even faster than before. And neither the size of the leaves, nor the intensity of photosynthesis reactions, nor the quality of the seeds changed with age.

The researchers compared the activity of genes in the leaves of ginkgo and in the cambium - the so-called special tissue in the stems and roots, due to which conductive tissues grow in thickness, vascular bundles, along which water and nutrients move from the roots to the top of the plant and back. As expected, the “aging” genes were especially active in aging and dying leaves. But in cambial cells, such “age-related” genes, which are activated in the later years of life, did not particularly manifest themselves in old trees - that is, they worked the same way in both old and young trees. In other words, ginkgo aged only by leaves, which, obviously, could always be replaced with new ones.

However, some age-related changes did occur with ginkgo. Article PNAS states that older trees had lower levels of heteroauxin (a growth hormone) and increased levels of abscisic acid (a hormone that inhibits growth). Ginkgoes that were over 200 years old also had less active genes responsible for cell division and cell differentiation.

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