The ginkgo, or maidenhair tree by which it is also known, is native to China. It is the oldest "nut" tree, surviving for about 150 million years. Its fan-shaped leaf resembles the leaflet of the maidenhair fern. Its distinctive leaf and tree form make it a fine ornamental. It adapts to a wide range of climates and soils, but does need good drainage. It can grow up to 30 m in height, but its open foliage does not suppress grass and other plants under it. It is hardy for much of Southern Ontario.

For a tree that has been with us so long, it has surprisingly few diseases and pests, so it makes a good city tree, where spraying is minimized. It produces both male and female trees and one of each is needed to produce nuts. It is not possible to determine the sex of a tree until it begins to bear and that may take 10 or more years. The nut is enclosed in a soft fleshy husk. When the nuts fall in the autumn, the husk can cause a foul smell, so they should not be planted near walkways where the footsteps can carry the pulp indoors. It is important to wear rubber gloves when harvesting and handling the fleshy hulls. There is also some concern that there are toxins in the leaves and nuts of the ginkgo.

The Western World only appreciates the ginkgo as an ornamental tree and for this reason, the only western cultivars are male clones. In China, there are numerous female selections that are propagated for very specific nut characteristics. The nutritious nuts are considered a delicacy and are used raw, roasted and in cooking. Interest in the nuts as a food is growing in North America, as the palate for Oriental foods expands. The leaves are also put to use as an herbal medicine. It has reputed properties which help to expand the blood vessels, help the heart and improve memory.

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SONG Members would like to thank the CanAdapt Small Projects Initiative 2000. Without their assistance this project would not have been possible.
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