My Dinosaur Tree

ginkgo plant I now have a Gnome in my garden. No, not plastic or terracotta with a fishing rod!  My gnome is Ginkgo biloba ‘Gnome’, a dwarfed variety of the dinosaur’s tree which can grow up to 40 metres in height – so a full size one’s a no-no for my tiny suburban garden.

Yes, dinosaurs munched on them!  Ginkgos are the only survivor of a group of trees that were around even before these great creatures.   Fossil leaves date from 270 million years ago. Ginkgos don’t have flowers – they evolved before that amazing combination of flowering trees and pollinating insects. You need a male tree (cones) and a female tree (2 ovules) for seeds to form.  And these stink of sick when they fall to the ground!

The maidenhair tree! I’ve loved ginkgos ever since I first saw one growing in an arboretum. Its unique leaves account for its common name as they are a bit like those of maidenhair fern (Adiantum). The leaves are fanshaped and two gingko leaveslobed, while the veins radiate from the base but never form a network as in other trees. They turn a beautiful butter yellow before they fall in autumn and next spring’s leaves are bright green.

Once they were widespread across the globe.  Now they may be extinct in the wild, though some probably grow in remote parts of China.  They’ve been popular in cities and gardens for many years and are very long lived as the wood is resistant to air pollution, pests and diseases.  The ‘Old Lion’ in Kew Gardens, London, was planted in 1762 by King George III’s mother, Princess Alice.  Some in the Far East are reputed to be 2,500 years old.

A medicine tree! Ginkgo extracts have been used for centuries in China, Japan and Korea.  Now you find them everywhere for such conditions as dementia and vertigo, though research is unclear about the benefits.  The seeds are poisonous unless well prepared.

All in all a fascinating plant – and one that I hope will give enjoyment to passers-by for years to come.

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