The na­ture of things

Ginkgo biloba

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook -

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

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