This 1400-year-old spectacular specimen of a tree is an ancient masterpiece, attracting international tourists to the Buddhist Temple in the Zhongnan Mountains (China), every year for its grand Autumnal show of yellowing leaves. Ginkgo Biloba (also known as the maidenhair tree), is rather unique, besides its impressive stature and presentation, it has been termed a living fossil, looking much today as it did over 270 million years ago. It belongs to a genre of its own, its close living relative being, well, itself. It is the only one in the division of Ginkgophyta to have survived since dinosaurs roamed the earth and of the five groups from all the seed plants which dominate land environments (spermatophytes), Ginkgo biloba is the only one which stands alone. All the other groups contain many different species, for example- the group of angiosperms (flowing plants) incorporate some 350,000 species.
Although not many Ginkgo trees survive in the wild today, many plantations have been developed globally for medical purposes. Among others, the Dr. Willmar Schwabe group of pharmaceutical companies, together with the French partner Beaufour – IPSEN, established ginkgo plantations in the US, France and China to secure a constant supply of high quality raw material.
It is fascinating to note that such an ancient primordial tree is primarily used in the treatment of age-related diseases such as memory loss in dementia.
Richard Dixon at the University of North Texas in Denton, Jinxing Lin at the Beijing Forestry University and their colleges found that compared with younger ginkgo’s, older trees produced less of the plant hormone auxin which stimulates growth and more of the hormone abscisic acid which helps plants to respond to stress. The older trees photosynthesized with the same efficiency as young trees and produced seeds that were just as viable.
The team also found that the gene activity between older and younger trees were very similar. The genes which are related to disease resistance, age related decline and the production of defensive compounds, such as antioxidants, were at the same level in both young and old trees.
Might studies of this time-honoured tree reveal its secrets of longevity for human beings to exploit for themselves? Who knows, but one thing is for sure, if you feel drawn to gazing upon this antique tree face to face, don’t forget to pack a nose peg. The smell of the seeds seems not to have changed since the Jurassic period and the alluring smell of vomit to dinosaur ‘seed dispensers’ might not smell as attractive to you.
It is the only survivor of an ancient group of trees older than the dinosaurs
Common name: Maidenhair Tree
If you liked this make sure you check out this amazing 400-year-old Bonsai Tree that survived Hiroshima.