The esteemed ginkgo evolved in the late Jurassic period and like a wise old sage has changed very little over the years. Virtually extinct in the wild, ginkgo’s continued existence is due solely to its popularity among gardeners. It is one of the oldest of cultivated species in Asia, where it has been planted around Buddhist monasteries for millennia.
At first glance, ginkgo may seem to be just another shade tree. But when the leaves are off in winter, the branches reveal their unusual fractal pattern, one of the clues that it is more a kin of ferns and other prehistoric specimens than of its contemporary cousins.
Most gingkoes planted as shade trees are male clones. The reason? Female ginkgoes drop fruit with an unfortunate smell reminiscent of rotten fish. However, inside the abysmal fruit is a pearl: the gingko nut is an Asian delicacy eaten like chestnuts.
And the ultimate testimony to this tree’s legacy of adoration? That would have to be its notorious ability to withstand harsh conditions – especially those imposed by the polluted environment of cities. For this reason, ginkgoes have been a specimen of choice as street trees in the world’s most polluted metropolises. In fact, in the aftermath of the nuclear holocaust in Hiroshima at the end of World War II, the only living things remaining in the area closest to ground zero were a handful of ginkgo trees.