Belfast Botanic Gardens Tree Archive

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This is one of a series of short articles about trees in the Belfast Botanic Gardens compiled by the Friends group. The tree tag number relates to the small aluminium discs, usually fixed on the tree trunk, 2 to 3m above ground level.
Ginkgo biloba
Maidenhair tree

Tag 217
54 deg 34.948N
5 deg 56.041W

The ginkgo is a unique species with no living relatives. Other members of the Ginkgoales order were growing in the Permian 270 million years ago. It is unclear whether there are any living wild populations, but it has been cultivated in China for over 1000 years and in the last 200 years has been widely grown around the world, particularly as a city tree. Fine specimens may be seen in many botanic gardens, for example a huge male tree in Kew gardens dating from 1762 and a female tree in Berne botanic gardens.

The leaf arrangement on Ginkgo is similar to that on some conifers such as Cedars (Cedrus spp) and Larches (Larix spp). On the young shoots the leaves are alternate, but on older branches, short shoots form with bunches of leaves. Ginkgo trees are dioecious; male trees have bunches of anthers in a catkin. The ginkgo is unique among trees in producing motile male gametes as in cycads and the lower plants such as mosses and liverworts. The separate female trees produce ovules in pairs. The ovules develop into a fruit-like structure with a fleshy outer layer around the seed. Unfortunately these have a most unpleasant smell and make a sticky mess round the base of the tree. For this reason almost all the ginkgo trees planted in public areas are male. The seed coat (strictly these are not fruit), are valued in Chinese medicine. Ginkgo trees have proved to be a very successful city street tree notably in New York, being tolerant of pollution. The male tree in Florence Botanic Garden had a single female branch grafted onto it so that both the male and female structures could be taught to students of botany and medicine.

Ginkgo biloba in Belfast Botanic Gardens

Ginkgo biloba leaf

Ginkgo in Belfast Botanic Gardens Ginkgo leaf

Long shoot of Ginkgo biloba

Short shoot on Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo: leaf arrangement on long shoot (i.e. young branch) Ginkgo: leaf arrangement on short shoot
Male catkins on Ginkgo biloba female ginkgo tree in a Paris park
Male catkins of Ginkgo (photographed in France) Female Ginkgo tree in fruit in a Paris park

Photos taken in Belfast Botanic Gardens in 2010/11. Copyright: Friends of Belfast Botanic Gardens.

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