Also Known As
Ginkgo is a large shade and ornamental tree, often more than 40 feet in height, with mature trees reaching over 80 feet tall. It is native to southern China, but is common in cultivated landscapes, especially along city streets. In the fall, ginkgo leaves turn a beautiful golden yellow and are famous for dropping all at once.
The fan-shaped leaves clustered on short shoots (also called spurs) are a reliable identification characteristic. As is the upright oval to upright spreading growth habit, with light gray furrowed bark. In addition, ginkgo is not native, and is not known to widely escape cultivation, meaning it is almost exclusively found in managed landscapes. Ginkgos are very tolerant of stressful conditions, and therefore well suited for urban environments. Commonly used as a street tree and in urban parks and gardens.
Did You Know?
Ginkgo is considered a "living fossil" because it closely resembles fossils that are millions of years old. Although Ginkgo biloba and other species of the genus were once found across the globe, its range severely contracted, until by two million years ago, it was restricted to just a small area of China. Today, ginkgo is the only surviving tree in the entire order of Ginkgoales: with the order, family, genus, and species all referring to a single species. Once thought to be extinct in the wild, it was rediscovered in 1691 and was brought to the United States in the late 1700s.
The leaves are 2-3 inches long, fan shaped and often two-lobed (the specific epithet “biloba” references this). Leaves have a somewhat leathery feel with conspicuous diverging veins that appear almost parallel. Leaves display an alternate arrangement emerging from knobby “short shoots.” In the spring, leaves are a bright yellow-green, transitioning to a gorgeous golden yellow color in fall.
Ginkgos are dioecious, meaning there are both male and female trees. Although not a true fruit, female trees produce a seed with a fleshy covering. They are oval-shaped, appearing tan-orange with a silver cast, and hang from spur shoots. Interestingly, the genus name is a misrendering of the Japanese ‘gin’ meaning silver and ‘kyo’ meaning apricot used in Japan in the 17th century. Often produced in great abundance, female trees create a mushy mess of fallen fruits with a strong, pungent odor in September and October. For this reason, male cultivars are now preferred.
The bark is typically light grayish brown, with shallow ridges and furrows, eventually becoming deeply furrowed with age.
Ginkgo prefers full to part sun and moist, deep, sandy soils. Suitable for USDA hardiness zones 3-8. Ginkgo is an introduced plant that does not stray from managed cultivation.