Ginkgo biloba – A living fossil

By | May 7, 2021
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Looking for a plant which can survive in any climate and soil ? Then species belonging to Ginkgo should be the answer ! Ginkgo species are known to be present on this planet since 270 millions years. Yes , that means they are around even before Dinosaurs (which flourished in Jurassic period 213 million years ago). The genus diversified and spread throughout the middle Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, but became much rarer thereafter. As we reached the end of the Pliocene, (The period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.3 million to 2.5 million years before present) Ginkgo fossils disappeared from the fossil record everywhere apart from a small area of central China where the modern species survived. In the modern day flora Ginkgo biloba is the sole representative of a once greatly flourished plant group in geological history “ Ginkgoales “, a group of gymnosperms composed of the family Ginkgoaceae consisting of about 19 members.

Ginkgos are very large trees, normally reaching a height of 20-35 m (66-115 feet), with some specimens in China being over 50 m (164 feet). The tree has an angular crown and long, somewhat erratic branches, and is usually deep rooted and resistant to wind and snow damage.The example of survivability of Ginkgo is best demonstrated in Hiroshima, Japan where it survived atom bomb attacks in 1945, and still survive to this day.

The leaves of a Ginkgo are large, fan-shaped and turn a bright yellow in the fall and this fan shape makes them very distinguishable from other trees. In Ginkgo’s males and females trees are different with females producing apricot-like structures are technically not fruits, but are seeds. The relationship of Ginkgo to other plant groups remains uncertain, since Ginkgo seeds are not protected by an ovary wall, it can morphologically be considered a gymnosperm.

The term “living fossil” used by Charles Darwin in his magnum opus “Origin of species” is apt for Ginkgo biloba. It could be easily one of the oldest living seed plant on this planet and a most vital link between the present and the remote past. Ginkgo biloba can be termed as living fossil as Ginkgoales other than G. biloba are not known from the fossil record after the Pliocene era and undergone very little change during evolution.

Scientists thought that it had become extinct, but in 1691 the German scientist Engelbert Kaempfer discovered the Ginkgo in Japan. The Ginkgos had survived in China and there they were mainly found in monestaries in the mountains and in palace and temple gardens, where Buddhist monks cultivated the tree from about 1100 AD for its many good qualities. From there it spread (by seed) to Japan (around 1192 AD with some relation to Buddhism) and Korea.