Maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba
One of the oldest trees at Kew is a male maidenhair tree which dates back to 1762 - less than 40 years after the first specimens had been introduced to Europe from China. It is one of the few trees at Kew remaining from the first botanic garden started by Princess Augusta, George III's mother, in 1759. Its hardiness was unknown, so it was planted against the wall of the Great Stove glasshouse for protection. This was subsequently demolished in 1861, which left the ginkgo standing alone. It is a multistemmed tree, probably due to the transplanting and moving early in its life which may have accounted for it losing its growing point. Past curators of the gardens recall the tree being grown against the wall of the great stove where it 'was trained like a fruit tree'. Other instances of Ginkgo trees being trained in this way have been reported. Several Ginkgo were planted at Kew in 1773 under the direction of Sir Joseph Banks.
In 2002 it rightly became one of the 50 “Great British Trees” in a scheme run by the Tree Council to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
Maidenhair trees are the only surviving members of the ancient group of plants which was widespread at the same time as the dinosaurs, 180-200 million years ago. Together with the conifers, cycads and Gnetum, they are classified as gymnosperms (plants with naked seeds). They have only been saved from extinction through cultivation.
The male trees have pollen-producing catkins, whilst female trees bear the rather smelly seeds. In China, these seeds are used in bird's nest soup, as a digestion aid, and as a hangover cure. Leaf extracts are used to treat circulatory problems, such as tinnitus and Reynaud's disease (also called white-finger), and are included in some after-shave lotions.
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Search Kew's electronic Plant Information Centre for scientific information about Ginkgo biloba