Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as ginkgo or gingko (both pronounced /ˈɡɪŋkoʊ/), also known as the maidenhair tree, is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all others being extinct. It is found in fossils dating back 270 million years. Native to China, the tree is widely cultivated, and was cultivated early in human history. It has various uses in traditional medicine and as a source of food.
The genus name Ginkgo is regarded as a misspelling of the Japanese gin kyo, "silver apricot", which is derived from the Chinese 銀杏 used in Chinese herbalism literature such as Shaoxing Bencao (紹興本草) and Compendium of Materia Medica.
Engelbert Kaempfer first introduced the spelling ginkgo in his book Amoenitatum Exoticarum. It is considered that he may have misspelled "Ginkjo" as "Ginkgo". This misspelling was included by Carl Linnaeus in his book Mantissa plantarum II and has become the name of the tree's genus.
Since the spelling may be confusing to pronounce, ginkgo is sometimes purposefully misspelled as "gingko".
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.
Ginkgo is a relatively shade-intolerant species that (at least in cultivation) grows best in environments that are well-watered and well-drained. The species shows a preference for disturbed sites; in the "semiwild" stands at Tian Mu Shan, many specimens are found along stream banks, rocky slopes, and cliff edges. Accordingly, ginkgo retains a prodigious capacity for vegetative growth. It is capable of sprouting from embedded buds near the base of the trunk (lignotubers, or basal chi chi) in response to disturbances, such as soil erosion. Old individuals are also capable of producing aerial roots on the undersides of large branches in response to disturbances such as crown damage; these roots can lead to successful clonal reproduction upon contacting the soil.
Extracts of ginkgo leaves contain phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, flavonoid glycosides, such as myricetin, kaempferol, isorhamnetin and quercetin, and the terpene trilactones, ginkgolides andbilobalides. The leaves also contain unique ginkgo biflavones, as well as alkylphenols and polyprenols.
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