The nature of things
GINKGO trees are always noticeable: the branches are weirdly angular and jointed, with stubby, twiggy growths shooting off almost at right angles, producing, in spring, the signature fan-like leaves. In autumn, the ginkgo is even more apparent, when those leaves turn a brilliant, buttery yellow before falling.
Potentially tall, the free-growing ginkgo can eventually reach some 60ft to 100ft or more (although usually much less), but some venerable specimens in China have been recorded at more than 160ft. In its native eastern China, the tree’s cultivation near temples goes back down the millennia and various parts of it have long been used medicinally. One of the finest specimens in Europe grows in Kew Gardens. Planted in 1762, as part of Princess Augusta’s collection of novelty trees in the grounds of Kew Palace, it was one of the first planted in Britain. However, it was a century earlier that a European citizen first recorded seeing the species, when the botanist Engelbert Kaempfer noted it being cultivated in Japanese temple gardens in 1690.
As a garden tree, ginkgos are interesting and ornamental ‘living fossils’, which have been around for some 200 million years. Trees are either male or female, the males being generally more popular when used ornamentally, especially as street trees, as the females produce squashy fruits that, although they have an edible kernel, smell awful. KBH Illustration by Bill Donohoe