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The Ginkgo Biloba: a true historian

More than 270 million years old, living together with dinosaurs, watching them die out and surviving an atomic bomb... The title 'living fossil' attributed by Darwin can almost be called an understatement. In this blog, we will take you through the rich history of Ginkgo Biloba. How did this special maidenhair tree become the longest-living tree species in the world?

Back to the dinosaur era

The oldest Ginkgo fossils date from the Permian. That is about 270 million years ago! The approximately 19 species of the Ginkgoaceae family were widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere (North America and Europe were still connected) and witnessed the rise and fall of the dinosaurs. In Europe the species was known from fossils and for a long time the Ginkgo was thought to be extinct. But nothing turned out to be less true. The Ginkgo Biloba has always survived in Southwest China and is now cultivated worldwide.



6 Hiroshima survivors

Another nickname for the Ginkgo Biloba: the survivor. September 1945, the Japanese port city of Hiroshima lies in ruins after an atomic bomb attack by the Americans. At least 86% of the inhabitants died in this attack, or from the radiation as a result of this attack. To everyone's surprise, a month after the bombing, six special survivors were discovered between 1130 and 2160 meters from the impact: six Ginkgos managed to withstand these very extreme conditions. They are still alive to this day.

Now you're probably wondering: what makes the Ginkgos able to survive this? They didn't come out unscathed. The outside of the trees was completely destroyed. The leaves, branches and bark were gone in one fell swoop. According to Sir Peter Crane, PhD and director of Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the Ginkgos survived because the cells in the inner narrow cylinder of the trunk remained intact [1]. The six Ginkgos are now well protected. The trees are cherished, and buildings are built around them. They have become a symbol of hope.



Special inside and out

The Maidenhair tree can rightly be called a special being. Recently, Chinese scientists have mapped a large part of the genome of the Ginkgo. It is 3 times as long as that of humans and contains many defense mechanisms against fungi, bacteria, and chemicals. This partly explains why the Ginkgo has lived on for millions of years. But the long individual lifespan (up to 3000 years) and rapid vertical growth in the first years also contribute to the success of this special tree.

By the way, did you know that the leaf of the Ginkgo is unique? The leaf has no veins and is not a conifer. The species does not belong to the deciduous trees, but also not to the conifers. The relationships between Ginkgos and other groups of plants are still not fully resolved. The most closely related living species is the Cycad (palm fern). So, a distant cousin.



A memory like a Ginkgo

The genus name (Ginkgo) comes from Chinese and means silver apricot. 'Biloba' stands for bilabial, referring to the leaves that are divided into two lobes. After the above stories it might be unnecessary to mention, but the Ginkgo Biloba is a very strong tree. This power is also reflected in its medicinal effect. The extract of this tree supports mental focus and memory and has been used in traditional herbal medicine for 5000 years. So go go go to the drugstore for a few Ginkgo Biloba tablets.

The Ginkgo is and remains a unique tree in our small country. There is even one Ginkgo that is considered of national importance and is on the National Register of Monumental Trees [2]. If you want to see it, you have to go to Elst (Gld). Incidentally, the small version of the Ginkgo Biloba may simply be found on your own windowsill: the tree can withstand very well and can therefore be kept as a bonsai shape. Get your own now!



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