Ginko biloba
Photo and Commentary ©2017 by Robert Howson
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ginko biloba is a unique tree with no close-living relatives. In fact, it was thought to be extinct in the wild for hundreds of years. Then it was rediscovered, growing in a limited area in China. Also known as the Maidenhair Tree, this “living fossil” is now given that title since other Ginkgoales, other than biloba, are not present in the fossil record after the Pliocene. And yet today, this attractive tree is widely grown as a cultivated plant. Its cultivation may go back prior to the written record since recent studies of the trees found growing in the wild show high genetic uniformity which suggests they “may have been planted and preserved by Chinese monks over a period of about 1,000 years.” Their closest relatives are the cycads which can be found growing in the tropics.

As shrouded in mystery as its past may be, the Ginko has been used medicinally for thousands of years and today in the United States it is still one of the best-selling herbs. There is evidence its use has benefits in the treatment of dementia, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Many other claims are made which lack conclusive evidence either supporting or negating its benefits. The fan-shaped leaves may turn a bright yellow in the fall and it was this two-lobed characteristic of the leaves that caused Linnaeus to give it the name biloba in 1771.

It appears to be resistant to disease and infestation by insects. As a result, some specimens may be older than 2,500 years. Their durability was displayed when following the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima in 1945, several of the trees were among the few living things that survived within 1-2 km of the center of the blast. Most other plants were killed, but their charred remains survived and soon returned as healthy plants.

In general, not a bad example for Christians to follow in their own lives: to show beauty to the world; be useful to those around you; not ashamed to be different and unique; resists that which would harm the body of Christ; perseveres, even when the going gets tough. And lastly, be part of the community where you are planted.