Ginkgo enigma

There are many enigmatic plants out there in addition to the boab. One is the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba).  It is such a different tree, biologically unique, really deserving of the moniker living fossil.  Millions of years ago it grew all across the world, and today people are familiar with it as a common street and park tree in virtually all temperate climates zones, yet its presence in “the wild” is limited to a few mountains in China – and the wildness of these populations is disputed.   It went extinct nearly everywhere, only to be brought back to life – and proliferated – due to its association with people who cultivated it and celebrated it.  

The story of ginkgo is ably recounted by Peter Crane, the former head of Kew Gardens and retiring Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.  His book, “Ginkgo: the Tree that Time Forgot“, is a rambling muse through the palaeobotanic as well as cultural history of this tree. It centres on the enigma of this trees’ near disappearance and marvels at its change of fortune through the trees’ association with humans. It is a worthwhile reminder just how much the natural and the cultural can be intertwined, and an opening to many more such stories of intertwined plant-people stories.  The book also does a good job educating the lay botanist like me in why I should appreciate the tree botanically (why it is so different), which means I appreciate it more as I stroll past it.


Image credits:  autumn leaves  by Joe Schneid, green leaf by Andrew Butko (both via wikimedia commons).

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