Flowering time (month)
Ornamental or utility value
moderately dry to moist
moderately nutritious to nutritious
The ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba), also called the fan leaf tree, is the only representative of the order of the ginkgoales in the ginkgo family (Ginkgoaceae) that still exists today. The ginkgo is a so-called living fossil in the plant kingdom: 180 million years ago it was already widespread in mixed deciduous forests in Europe. In the following Cretaceous all species died out – except Ginkgo biloba, which survived in a few locations in the Chinese province of Sichuan.
In East Asia, the ginkgo has always been cultivated primarily as a temple tree. It was brought to Europe in 1727, planted in the Botanical Garden of Utrecht and has since been used mainly in parks. Its name originates from the Chinese word “ginkyo”, which means silver apricot. Engelbert Kämpfer described the tree for the first time in 1712 and made a mistake in the transcription, which was continued since then. The prehistoric tree relic is neither a conifer nor a flowering plant, but occupies a special position. Ginkgos are usually classified as conifers, however, as they are closer to conifers in terms of developmental history. The ginkgo tree became famous not least because of its two-part leaves, which Johann Wolfang von Goethe described in his poem “Ginkgo biloba” from 1815, published in the West-Eastern Divan. It was also Goethe who planted the ginkgo tree, which visitors to the Botanical Garden in Jena can still admire today. With a trunk circumference of over four metres, it is considered one of the oldest specimens in Europe.
The deciduous ginkgo tree grows slender and erect. It can grow up to 40 metres high. Its crown is conical, becomes wider with age, with stiffly projecting, sparsely branched branches of long and short shoots. The grey to dark brown bark of the Ginkgo is net-like and deeply furrowed at old trunks. Old specimens with strong side branches sometimes have meter-long root-like outgrowths, which are called “Tschitschis”. This could be “remnants” of supporting root-like organs of old ginkgo species. In Japan, the Tschtischis are considered fertility symbols.
The long stemmed fan leaves are often cut or lobed, parallel or forked, rough leathery and fresh green. They grow in clusters on short shoots or individually on long shoots and grow to ten centimeters long and wide. In autumn, before the leaves fall, they turn intensely golden yellow.
Ginkgoes are dioecious, which means that there are purely male and purely female plants. Male flowers stand in yellow catkins, the long-stemmed female flowers individually. The inconspicuous pile appears in March to April. The pollination, i.e. the emission of the pollen, takes place by the wind. However, the actual fertilization process is highly complex and almost unique in the plant kingdom – only the palm ferns show comparable mating behaviour. From the pollen, so-called spermatozoids develop – these are freely mobile sperm cells that actively seek their way into the spermatozoa of the female fruits that have fallen to the ground in a humid environment.
From September the yellow, mirabellenähnlichen fleshy seeds with stone core form. When they are ripe, they smell unpleasantly of butyric acid. For this reason, almost exclusively male ginkgoes are planted in public green areas today.
Location and soil
The ginkgo tree is extremely adaptable and thrives on all deep soils. However, the best growth is in nutrient-rich, loamy soils. The location should be sunny to semi-shady.
Plant the ginkgo tree best in spring. Young plants are best placed in a location that is semi-shady at first and where they can grow into the light with increasing size. In autumn you should only plant trees that are already six years old and therefore robust. In any case, the planting hole must be excavated large enough and enriched with some compost. After planting, you should water the ginkgo sufficiently and, depending on its size, attach it to a tree post so that it cannot tip over in stormy weather.
The Ginkgo is an extremely easy-care tree and requires hardly any attention. For young trees, it makes sense to wrap the trunk with jute fabric or a reed mat during the first few years so that it does not crack in winter. A mulch layer in the root area promotes growth. If you apply bark mulch, you should supply the tree with a few handfuls of horn shavings beforehand.
The Ginkgo forms by nature only very few side shoots and branches. In order to obtain a slightly denser crown, the annual side shoots of young trees can be shortened in spring. However, cuts into older wood are only recommended if, for example, a branch is to be completely removed or the trunk is to be snapped on.
The Ginkgo cuts a fine figure both in individual positions in the park and as group wood. Since the ginkgo tree tolerates both heat and dry air, is resistant to air pollution and is hardly or not at all affected by disease, it is a popular city and street tree. It was planted very frequently in East Berlin before the fall of the Wall, because it coped best with the polluted air next to the cord tree (Sophora).
The Ginkgo is only suitable for more spacious gardens because of its impressive size in old age. It is best combined with other magnificent autumnal woody plants such as the amber tree, various maple or dogwood species. The Ginkgo is also very suitable as a shade donor for rhododendron plantations. Its autumn foliage rots well and forms a loose raw humus in which the roots of the evergreen flowering shrubs feel very comfortable. There are even dwarf forms that can be cultivated in tubs (see below).
Importance as a medicinal plant
Ginkgo has a long tradition as a medicinal plant in China and is also offered in Europe in the form of numerous health products. The leaves contain a whole cocktail of health-promoting substances, which are mostly used as “ginkgo extract” for the prevention and alleviation of various diseases: Above all, they have a beneficial influence on the central nervous system and promote the formation of various messenger substances in the brain. Therefore, they are often prescribed when memory performance decreases. They also promote blood circulation by improving the flow properties of the blood and protect the body cells from free radicals.
Aurea’: leaves persistent yellow even in summer
Autumn Gold’: non fruiting, broad cone-shaped, medium sized variety with bright yellow autumn colouring; very robust and recommended as a road tree.
‘Lakeview’: narrow crown; medium-sized to large tree; male form ‘Mariken’: newer Dutch breed with spherical crown; only two metres high and about the same width in old age; mostly offered as high trunk refinement and also suitable for cultivation in tubs
Pendula’: small tree with a crown hanging down like an umbrella
Princeton Sentry’: very narrow columnar crown with stiff upright branches; 15 to 20 metres high and four to six metres wide.
Tremonia’: column-shaped growth; grows up to twelve metres high
Ginkgoes are usually propagated by sowing or grafting. Since the seeds collected in Central Europe rarely ripen properly, the seeds for cultivation in local nurseries are usually imported from Southern Europe or Asia. Therefore, the cultivation of self-collected seeds is a matter of luck. The fresh seeds are freed from the bad smelling shell and placed in boxes of moist sand. In this way they are stored at one to three degrees until spring. The propagation by cuttings is also possible, but only in greenhouses with professional propagation equipment such as a spray mist system. The new shoots are used as cuttings from the end of May to the beginning of June when they are 20 centimeters long. They are torn off at the branch, treated with growth hormones after removal of the bark tongue and placed in moist breeding soil. Breeding forms are usually grafted by copulation in early spring onto potted seedling rootstocks. Mourning forms and spherical forms are usually also refined by copulation or the so-called gout foot refinement on high trunks of the wild plants. After grafting, all varieties should be further cultivated in the greenhouse for one year.
Diseases and pests
Ginkgos are almost resistant to the typical tree diseases and pests. This was probably not the case millions of years ago, but over time all former adversaries may have died out. Sometimes, however, the roots are eaten by voles. The bark of young trees is susceptible to wild browsing.
Ginkgos at the our store-Shop
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.