Did you know that the oldest living tree in the world is the Ginkgo? In existence for over 250 million years, it is known as a ‘living fossil’ and is the only survivor of an ancient group of trees that date back to a time before the dinosaurs. Often found in the ‘Conifers’ sections of plant books and described as a deciduous conifer, it is commonly called the Maidenhair Tree or the ‘Duck Feet Tree’ because its fan-shaped leaves resemble both the leaflets of a Maidenhair Fern and duck feet!
These leaves are a brilliant lime green during the summer months that turn to a deep mustard yellow in the autumn. This fascinating tree also has a quirky trait. One day you are looking at this lovely vision of beautiful autumn leaves and the next day you are left with stark branches and a yellow carpet of leaves at the Ginkgo’s feet.
Native to China, where it is deemed as sacred because it was often planted in temple with the myth that it’s sacredness prevented it from extinction.
For thousands of years the Chinese have cultivated the Ginkgo leaf for food and herbal medicine and today it is the subject of extensive clinical research. It is believed its properties contain many medicinal benefits, which include helping blood circulation flow through the heart and limbs. Furthermore, it is often called the ‘brain herb’ as some studies show it helps to improve memory in people with dementia, although to date the studies are still inconclusive.
A very pretty and hardy tree, it seems to tolerate most conditions and while very slow growing in its early years, it does not mature until it is twenty years old – it will grow to 100 feet in the wild. It is resistant to drought, disease and pollution and will live for as long as a thousand years.
The first Ginkgo planted in Britain was in Kew Gardens in 1762 and is one of the few remaining trees from Kew’s first botanical garden that began life in 1759. Why don’t you give yourself a treat in the spring and take yourself off to Kew Gardens stand at the feet of a ‘living fossil’. It’s awesome.