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~ The Maidenhair Tree, Ginkgo biloba ~

The first time I laid eyes on a Maidenhair tree was over twenty years ago and I just feel in love. I was fall; the imposing, yet delicate, conical tree was covered in unblemished, bright golden foliage that was beginning to fall and form a carpet on the grass. The fan-shaped leaves grew from the branches each in a different direction, which in itself is unusual, and were fluttering in the wind like those of poplars. Looking like large thorns, were spur shoots decorating the older stems and branches.

The name "Ginkgo" comes from Japanese word "ginkyo," or "silver apricot", which describes the appearance of the fruit and says nothing about its infamous noxious odor, while "biloba" refers to the double-lobed, fan-shaped leaves. This tree is a survivor, and very tolerant of a variety of growth conditions. The fossil record shows that the species has been exisiting for over 150 million years. In fact, it was once only known as a fossil, until it was re-discovered in China in 1691.

Ginkgo biloba is hardy to zone 4. This relatively slow grower eventually forms a very large shade tree, maturing at a height of 25m and a width of 20m. Beginning with a gawky, open-branched, conical structure, it tends to become irregular, and pruning is important early on the the tree's life to prevent branching at poor angles, criss-crossing main limbs and loss of central leader. Make sure to have a tall ladder and a big saw!

If the Maidenhair tree is too large for your garden, you don't have to deprive yourself; it makes an excellent bonsai specimen.

Cultivars that are widely available in the nursery trade include 'Autumn Gold', appreciated for dependable golden-yellow fall color and pyramidal growth habit, and 'Princeton Sentry' which has a good columnar habit. Others that are emerging on the market include:
'Mariken' - A dwarf?
'Pendula' - The weeping Maidenhair tree.
'Tubifolia' - With tubular leaves.
'Tubifolia' - Another photo.
Cultivars most unusual - Photos includes variegated, fringe-leaved, funnel-leaved and slim-leaved.



Cultivation



Female trees produce seed that emit nauseating, volatile compounds when crushed or rotting, that are difficult to wash off the skin if touched, and may cause a rash in sensitized individuals. These compounds include butyric acid, and the mixture dinstinctly smells of vomit. Wisely, most nurseries sell only grafted male varieties that do not produce fruit. Female trees do no bear until they have reached 20 years of age, at which point you might as well take advantage of the fact that the nuts inside the smelly mess are edible...

Soil and Watering
For maximum growth and vigour, plant in deep, slightly sandy soil, and water regularly when young. Virtually free of pest and disease problems, and with male trees producing no litter, Ginkgo biloba is ideal for stressful situations such as those encountered in urban planting (drought, air pollution, salt spray in winter, poor or compacted soils), wherever the Ginkgo's considerable space requirements allow it.

Propagation
Cuttings from trees known to be male are grafted onto seedling rootstock. Seed propagated plants will yield 50% female trees.

Ginkgo biloba Links

Richmond Nursery - BC nursery.
Pacific Rim Native Plant Nursery - Canadian mail order source.
Grimo Nut Nursery - Canadian mail order source of seed-propagated trees.
Engelbert Kaempfer - Notes on the re-discoverer of the tree.
Wood carvings - Made from Ginkgo wood.
Bonsai - Make a Maidenhair tree bonsai.


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