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The Maidenhair { Ginkgo} Tree Study of Trees 18

Updated on August 9, 2015

Ginkgo tree

Luxembourg city Dargent
Luxembourg city Dargent | Source


This is the eighteenth in the series 'a study of trees' which aims to help those who wish to identify trees but are unsure of the species. Most people commence their tree recognition skills by identifying the form and colour of the leaves. This is fine during the summer months but of little use when the the tree trees are naked and bare during the winter months. However, every tree has a characteristic{s} which will help the observant to identify the tree species even in the depths of winter. Here we review the Maidenhair tree also commonly referred to as the Ginkgo tree, with the aid of great images and descriptive text the identification of this tree should be easier. We commence with a little history and background of the species.

Maidenhair fern leaf Adiantum capillus verneis

The Ginkgo tree took its common name of Maidenhair tree from the superficial resemblance of its foliage to that of this fern
The Ginkgo tree took its common name of Maidenhair tree from the superficial resemblance of its foliage to that of this fern | Source

Maidenhair tree leaf


About the Ginkgo tree.

The Gingko tree belongs to the Order of trees known as the Ginkgoales and placed in the family Ginkgoaceae within that order. it is placed in the genus Ginkgo and given the specific name of biloba {two-lobed} It was formerly known as Salisburia adiantifolia { see text below} after R.A.Salisbury a distinguished botanist. The name Ginkgo derives from the aboriginal name in Japan.

It is commonly known as the Maiden hair tree which alludes to the foliage being superficially similar to the foliage of the Maidenhair fern Adiantum capilus veneris. In its native country, the Ginkgo tree forms a large tree,like the Walnut, but more conical in the manner of its growth.

in England, in the climate of London,where it has favourable soil and situation it rises with a straight erect trunk,regularly furnished with alternate branches at first inclined upwards, but as they become older,taking a more horizontal direction,so as to form a regular concial and somewhat spiry topped head.

Bark of the Ginkgo tree


Background and historical information

This tree is truly remarkable in many respects. I suppose the most mind blowing, is the fact that it has refused to evolve, it is thought to be the same now as it was 200 million years ago. Yes 200 million years ago! No other tree species has remained the same,and, it has no other living relative on this planet. They have survived the Ice ages and other world climate changes with impunity.

The tree was once distributed across the world before modern day coniferous trees evolved. Long before broad-leaved trees emerged on our planet the Ginkgo has we shall refer to it,was thriving in America,Asia, Australia and what is now the Isle of Mull, Scotland. However, by the time man emerged as a species the Ginkgo had retreated to the mountain regions in China. It is thanks to them being planted in Chinese Temple Gardens and then to Japan as ornamental trees, and the fact that the kernels were used as food, that we have viable populations today.

In Japan and China the fruits were roasted and eaten as food and the species has been employed in herbal medicine, but it appears here in the UK and across Europe it was chiefly seen as a botanical ornament. During the 1800's the plants were sold at London Nurseries from one shilling and sixpence to five shillings each,according to size. Female plants were five shillings each. At New York they were sold at two dollars each.

They have been planted or reintroduced in many countries of the world including America.

Ginkgo tree saplings


A relatively modern historical account.

According to Loudon, 'Arboretum et Fruticetum Brittannicum' 1854, " The trees grow with rapidity in the climate of London,attaining the height of ten to twelve feet in ten years, and in forty to years,the height of as many feet. The longevity of the Salisburia { Old scientific name for the tree},promises to be great,for the largest trees in England,that are in good soils, continue to grow with as much vigour as when they were newly planted.

" The tree at Utrecht,which is supposed between ninety and one hundred years old,and consequently the oldest in Europe, though not large,continues to produce vigorous shoots.The highest tree we know of in England is at Purser's Cross,where it was planted about 1767,is over sixty feet high. But by far the handsomest tree which we know of from the Mile End Nursery which measured i, was exactly sixty feet high July 1873.

" It was first discovered by Kaempfer, in Japan in 1690 and an account of it was published by the author in his 'Amoenitales Exotica' in 1712. It is uncertain when the tree was introduced to Europe. If the estimate by Professor Kops of Utrecht,as to the age of the tree growing in the Botanic Garden there,is at all near the truth, it must just have been introduced into Holland, between 1727-1737 and from the connection between the Dutch with Japan at that time seems justification.

" It is certain it was not introduced into England till 1754,or there abouts, because Ellis,writing to Linnaeus in that year, mentions that Gordon had plants of it. Gordon, himself sent a plant to Linnaeus in 1771, who in his 'Manhssii' published in that year, noticed it for the first time, under the name of Gingko biloba, which was altered by Smith, in 1796 to salisburia. This alteration by Smith,was on account of the generic name being 'equally uncouth and barbarous'.

This caused much debate among botanists for many years especially among those who were against a multiplicity of names being given to a species. Five plants were introduced from Japan. These five plants to Paris, which had been raised from nuts sent to London. These plants were introduced in 1780. Almost all the trees in France have been propagated from the original five trees, imported from London by Mr. Petign, a Parisian amateur Botanist

A fine specimen

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum USA
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum USA | Source
The foliage from spur shoots are entire without the cleft notch
The foliage from spur shoots are entire without the cleft notch | Source

The leaves of Gingko biloba The Maidenhair tree.

The leaves are the same colour and texture on both sides. They are somewhat triangular in shape,arranged alternately like the branches. They are wedge -shaped at the base, with stalks as long as the leaf blade. They are abrupt at the upper extremities,and notched there, in the manner almost peculiar to the genus,and to some species of ferns. They are smooth,shining and pliant, of a yellowish-green colour,with numerous minute parallel ribs, and their margins are somewhat thickened.

They leaves are unique among seed trees being fan-shaped,with veins radiating out into the leaf blade,sometimes splitting, yet never form a network. Two veins enter the leaf blade at the base and fork repeatedly in two. In Botanical parlance this is known as dichotomous venation. The fan shaped foliage with long stems and more or less wavy edges and a notch in the middle is the usual leaf shape.On young shoots these notches can almost divide the leaf in two down the middle.

The leaves are generally two to four inches,but sometimes up to six inches long.[15 cm }. The autumn colour of the foliage, is a deep saffron yellow and is highly prized by its admirers. The colours of the autumn foliage is beautiful but unfortunately for those admirers the display is short lived.

Typical foliage


Courtesy of Jeremiah Nichol Standard You Tube license { Education}

Foliage and young fruits


Male flowers of the Ginkgo tree


Flowers and fruit

The male flowers which appear with the leaves in May,on the wood of the preceding year,or on old spurs have no stalks and are about one and a half inches long and of a yellowish green colour.

The female flowers,according to Richards'have this perculiarity, that each flower is in part enclosed in a sort of cup. This covering is supposed to be produced by dilation of the summit of the stalk.

The fruits consist of a globular or oval drupe,about one inch in diameter,containing a white nut or endocarp,somewhat flattened,of a woody texture,thin and breaking easily. the fruits are borne in pendulous clusters each being borne singly on a long stalk.

Records reveal that a nut examined by Sir J.E.Smith,from specimens in his possession,with a farinaceous kernel," Having the flavour of Almond, but with some degree of austerity"

Ginkgo fruits tend to 'stink' when they rot away their fleshy covering to reveal the kernel and that is why most Ginkgo trees on streets and avenues are male that do not produce the fruit but are elegantly beautiful in their summer foliage.

Ripening fruits


Seeds or kernels

The seeds are roasted to be eaten.
The seeds are roasted to be eaten. | Source

Fine Autumn colours are short lived



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, your very welcome ,glad you enjoy this series. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I had the maidenhair in my front yard in WIlmington, DE. Thanks for the fabulous work, as always.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi, trees are so interesting and being able to recognise the species always adds more interest. Thank you for your kind comments and all the votes,much appreciated. best wishes to you.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      4 years ago from New York

      I'll have to pay more attention to the trees around. I don't remember this one though it is a lovely tree. Holding the distinction of the oldest tree certainly makes it more interesting.

      Great information as always.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi, you are very welcome, thank you for your appreciated visit.Best wishes to you.


      Hello Devika, it is a pleasure to share my love of nature, mother nature has so much to offer. Glad you enjoyed, and your encouraging comments are always an inspiration,thank you too for your votes, you are kind. Best wishes to you..

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi D.A.L you always bring out the best in your writing skills from the love of nature to the most interesting facts of life. I enjoyed reading the facts about another unique topic from you. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • VioletteRose profile image


      4 years ago from Chicago

      A very spectacular looking tree, it looks extremely gorgeous in autumn. Thanks for sharing.


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