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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Ginkgo biloba

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas October. 12, 2020

The Ginkgo is my favourite tree, particularly at this time of year. Where I used to live I identified three places where they grew nearby and used to check them out whenever I was around those areas.

Having relocated to Devon this year I am pleased to say I have already found some locally, actually a small avenue of them in the car park in Kingsbridge. I am so pleased, and love the fact that someone, somewhere, in some back room of officialdom at the council, when that car park was being planted, for some reason said "do you know what? Let's have Ginkgo's". Aren't I the lucky one. Thank you whoever you are.

They haven't turned colour yet, I checked last week.

But here are some taken in different places in previous years to whet your appetite and set you a challenge, let's see how many of you can find one where you live.

Whet your appetite - This phrase is often confused with 'wet your whistle'. Uncertainty about the spelling of the first word, either as whet or wet, leads to both phrases being wrongly spelled too. In fact there's no connection between the two terms, which are properly spelled as 'whet your appetite' and 'wet your whistle'. Whet your appetite - The allusion in the former is to the sharpening of tools on a whetstone (grindstone) and so whet means just to sharpen. So, 'whetting our appetite' is 'sharpening our appetite'. 'Wet your whistle' pre-dates 'whet your appetite' by some centuries, and was first recorded in the 1386 Towneley Mysteries:

So sharpen your eyesight, now that I've whetted your appetite, and if you succeed, you can celebrate your discovery by wetting your whistle.

Gynkgophyta is the name of the botanical division, and here is what makes the Ginkgo so rare and special, all of the other species in that group are extinct. So it is virtually a living fossil. What evolutionary twists and turns there must have been over the past 270 million years to wipe out all the cousins but leave this species intact and flourishing.

This one is in the High Street in Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. Those who know the Cotswolds will recognise the stone in the building opposite the tree. Cotswold stone is quite distinctive.

The Cotswold hills are made of Oolitic (fantastic word) limestone, a type of limestone made up of small round grains. These formed in shallow, warm waters like those found today around Florida and parts of the Caribbean Sea, where calcium carbonate is deposited from sea water due to evaporation. The round grains grow in size as they are gently rolled to and fro by waves, in water only a few metres deep.

Cotswold stone is used as a building stone because it easily splits into blocks and is quite weather-resistant. Its pale golden colour helps to make Cotswold villages very attractive to tourists. The rocks that form the Cotswold Hills are made up of three different geological stages of the Jurassic period and date from between 210-140 million years ago.

So this brings up two obvious points. First, when the rock that ended up being fashioned into mullion windows in Chipping Campden were being formed in a warm sea millions of years ago, there were other living cousins of the Ginkgo biloba still hanging around waiting to become extinct. Second, if you hang around now in the warm seas of Florida for a hundred million years or more you will find some lovely honey coloured stone underfoot that you will be able to use to fashion a mullioned window with.

On the other side of the road, someone has had the great foresight to add another one, still a little baby, but no less stunning.

The trees have quite a distinctive shape and form which I can't exactly describe but once you have seen a few you do recognise it. This photo below gives an idea of what I mean. The ends of the branches have a sort of definite tapered look.

Officially speaking........Ginkgos are large trees, normally reaching a height of 20–35 m (66–115 ft), with some specimens in China being over 50 m (160 ft). The tree has an angular crown and long, somewhat erratic branches, and is usually deep rooted and resistant to wind and snow damage. Young trees are often tall and slender, and sparsely branched; the crown becomes broader as the tree ages. During autumn, the leaves turn a bright yellow, then fall, sometimes within a short space of time (one to 15 days). A combination of resistance to disease, insect-resistant wood and the ability to form aerial roots and sprouts makes ginkgos long-lived, with some specimens claimed to be more than 2,500 years old.

You won't believe this next bit, even if you can pronounce any of it.

Extracts of ginkgo leaves contain phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, flavonoid glycosides, such as myricetin, kaempferol, isorhamnetin and quercetin, and the terpene trilactones, ginkgolides and bilobalides. The leaves also contain unique ginkgo biflavones, as well as alkylphenols and polyprenols.

I did warn you.

This was a strange experience, I was checking on this tree in Redditch Country Park to see if it had turned a few years back and when I arrived I discovered that almost every leaf had just dropped off overnight, still green. Some sort of weather anomaly, as there was no wind and it wasn't particularly cold. As you can see they were all laying there where they fell, like a Ginkgo rug. If there was such a thing as a Ginkgo rug, I would definitely buy one.

Interestingly, this was the only tree in the park with a wire mesh fence protecting it. This was erected a couple of years earlier while I happened to be walking past. Wanting to know why my (I emphasise my) tree was being fenced off, the park ranger explained that the three species of deer in the park had a particular fondness for Ginkgo bark and that they were in danger of killing it if they didn't protect it. So even the deer know a good thing when they see it.

If you hadn't noticed the Ginkgo before or didn't know about it, you will see how easy it is to identify it from the leaves. They are a very distinctive fan shape. There's nothing else like it. Of course another good way to spot them is at this time of year, if you are North of the Equator, or in six months for the rest of you, as you now know what yellow to seek out in your parks and streets.

Officially-The leaves are unique among seed plants, being fan-shaped with veins radiating out into the leaf blade, sometimes bifurcating (splitting), but never anastomosing to form a network.

My word for today is Bifurcated -divide into two branches or forks.

I've always liked this word. That is bi pronounced as in bi-cycle not bif as in difference. One of my many past jobs included the sale of amongst many thousands of products, bifurcated rivets. Little rivets that were split so you popped them into the holes of the two pierced items you wanted to join, you then split the two parts of the back of the rivet open and banged them flat leaving the head of the rivet the other side of the joined materials. A pretty mundane little object with a great descriptive name.

And these were in Stratford upon Avon.

The trees put us humans to shame in one respect, they have a large genome of 10.6 billion DNA nucleobase "letters" (the human genome has three billion) and about 41,840 predicted genes which enable a considerable number of antibacterial and chemical defence mechanisms. In 2020, a study in China of gingko trees up to 667 years old showed little effects of aging, finding that the trees continued to grow with age and displayed no genetic evidence of senescence.

So you don't need Ginkgo nursing homes. Having said that no Ginkgo has yet evolved to a stage where it can do a DNA analysis of us, so you know, don't get too big headed guys.

Ginkgo is used as an herbal remedy to treat many conditions. It may be best known as a treatment for dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and fatigue. Other conditions it's used to treat are: anxiety and depression.

So I'm now wondering if those Deer in Redditch were just depressed?

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