Ginkgo biloba

July 7, 2010 at 1:46 am Leave a comment

I’ve moved to a new city and started a new job, so I’m going to cut the number of posts down to one a week. I’ll update on Mondays, barring extenuating circumstances. Thanks for reading!

You might be more familiar with today’s plant when it’s found in products like energy drinks and traditional medicines. Believe it or not, many of our city streets are lined with Gingko biloba trees, and they have a peculiar history.

The Ginkgo is a living fossil. It might look like any other tree from far away, but take a close look at those weird clusters of wedge-shaped leaves — they were a familiar sight to ancient reptiles that walked the Earth long before dinosaurs.

For a time, the Ginkgo tree spread throughout the globe. Eventually, however, this tree could no longer compete in a world filled with modern plants. About two million years ago there were so few Ginkgos that they no longer showed up in the fossil record. The Ginkgo tree still hung on in some parts of China, but times looked tough. Fortunately, it was about to see another international resurgence.

At some mysterious point in history, a few humans decided that the Ginkgo tree was useful and attractive. They began to cultivate it far outside of its native range. Eventually, people carried this tree outside of Asia and spread it to urban areas around the globe.

Nowadays there is no unquestionably native population of Ginkgo trees — that is, there is no population that wasn’t planted by people. But once again this species flourishes internationally. The future of the Ginkgo tree is now inextricably connected with the future of the human species, like so many other plants in the urban jungle.

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Entry filed under: Trees.

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