The glorious gingko

The native habitat of the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) or Maidenhair tree is unknown since it was thought to be extinct in the wild for centuries. The oldest known "native" stands are in eastern China where they have been tended by monks for over 1,000 years.

Known as a living fossil since it has no known living close relatives, it is considered the oldest surviving tree species. Fossils of the ginkgo have been dated back 270 million years.

Surprisingly, the ginkgo is a type of conifer, like a Pine or Spruce, being more closely related to a fern or cycad than a flowering plant. Its prehistoric habitat included the temperate regions of North America. A petrified forest of ginkgo's can be found at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, located just north of I-90 on the Washington side of the Colombia River.

The ginkgo is ideally suited to southern Oregon. It has no serious pests or disease issues and enjoys a long life span. A 3,000 year-old ginkgo has been reported in the Shandong province in China, making these trees a worthy investment for the landscape. Ginkgo's are also slow growers.

There are many fine examples of ginkgo's in Ashland, the most prominent of which is probably the mature specimen in the Japanese-style garden in Lithia Park. It was planted in the early 1900s and was part of the original park design by John MacLaren. It is 50-feet tall. Other, much younger specimens of ginkgo's can be seen at the corner of Pioneer and B Streets, and at Lithia Way and Second Street.

The gingko's form is open and narrowly conical, and being deciduous (plants that loose their leaves seasonally) its leaves turn a spectacular golden color in the autumn, forming a beautiful yellow carpet on the ground when they drop. The fruit of the female tree, actually a seed with a fleshy outer shell, also matures in the fall and resembles an apricot, but that's where the resemblance ends as the fleshy portion decomposes at maturity, releasing an unpleasant odor. Since ginkgo trees are either male or female, it is important to select the male for the landscape. Look for specimens at nurseries identified by gender.

In addition to their beauty in the landscape, the seeds of the ginkgo are eaten throughout much of Asia (minus the fleshy outer portion) either fresh or canned, known as white nut or silver apricot. The leaves of the ginkgo have been in use in medicine for centuries not only by the Chinese, but in Europe and other countries as well.

Look for additional information about the ginkgo tree as well as other trees suitable to our locale in the City of Ashland Recommended Street Tree Guide prepared by the Ashland Tree Commission. Free copies of the guide may be obtained at the Community Development Office of the City of Ashland located at 51 Winburn Way, or online at the City's Web site.

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