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Discover China’s National Tree: The Gingko

China, a country with a rich history, diverse culture, and an abundance of natural wonders, proudly recognizes the ginkgo tree as its national symbol. This tree is not just a botanical marvel; it is a living testament to the passage of time, having witnessed the eons come and go.

With a lineage dating back to the dinosaurs, the ginkgo tree stands as a resilient symbol of endurance and vitality. In a nation that greatly values its history and traditions, the ginkgo holds a special place in the hearts of the people.

As we delve into the world of this remarkable tree, prepare to discover its secrets, marvel at its beauty, and understand why it has captivated the imagination of a nation.

Discover The Gingko, National Tree of China

The ginkgo tree, scientifically known as Ginkgo biloba, is a unique species with no close living relatives. It is often referred to as a “living fossil,” as it has remained largely unchanged for millions of years. The tree can reach heights of 20-35 meters (65-115 feet), with some exceptional specimens even surpassing 50 meters (164 feet).

Its leaves are fan-shaped, displaying a beautiful bright green hue in spring and summer, transforming into a brilliant golden yellow in autumn. Each leaf ranges from 5-16 centimeters (2-6 inches) in length and 6-9 centimeters (2.4-3.5 inches) across.

The bark of the ginkgo is rough and deeply furrowed, providing a unique texture to the tree’s appearance. Ginkgo trees are dioecious, meaning that individual trees are either male or female.

The female trees produce plum-like seeds with a fleshy outer layer, which can emit an unpleasant odor when it decays on the ground. The male trees, on the other hand, produce pollen cones.

The ginkgo tree has a distinct, elegant appearance with its tall, slender trunk and irregularly shaped crown, making it a favorite for ornamental planting.

Where Does The Gingko Grow?

The ginkgo tree is incredibly versatile and resilient, capable of thriving in a variety of environments. It is highly tolerant of pollution and soil compaction, making it a popular choice for urban settings. In China, ginkgo trees are commonly found in regions with temperate climates, flourishing in both rural landscapes and city streets.

Historically, ginkgo trees were native to China, and all ginkgoes found in other countries, including Japan, North Korea, and regions in Europe and America, have been directly or indirectly introduced from China.

The tree prefers well-drained soil and can tolerate both acidic and alkaline conditions. It is resistant to pests and diseases, which contributes to its longevity and robust nature.

In its natural habitat, the ginkgo tree is often found along riverbanks and in mixed forests, where it adds to the biodiversity and beauty of the landscape.

China Gingko

The Gingko in the Ecosystem

The ginkgo tree plays a vital role in urban and rural ecosystems. In urban areas, it acts as a bioindicator, its presence signaling air quality due to its high tolerance for pollution and resistance to disease and pests. This makes it an invaluable species for greening city spaces, providing shade, and improving air quality.

In rural and natural settings, the ginkgo contributes to the biodiversity of the landscape. Though it is not a key food source for a wide variety of animals due to the distinctive odor of its seeds, some wildlife such as certain birds and small mammals may feed on the seeds. The tree’s robust nature allows it to coexist with various plant species, contributing to the overall health and diversity of the ecosystem.

Additionally, the ginkgo has deep roots that help prevent soil erosion, particularly in areas prone to degradation. Its leaves contribute to the nutrient cycling in ecosystems as they fall and decompose, enriching the soil and supporting the surrounding plant life.

Why and When Did The Gingko Become The National Tree of China?

The ginkgo tree was officially recognized as the national tree of China in September 2005 following a public voting initiative commissioned by the State Forestry Administration.

The Chinese Society of Forestry announced the result, revealing that the ginkgo had won an overwhelming majority of over 95 percent of the votes. This decision reflects the tree’s profound cultural and historical significance in China.

The ginkgo tree is considered a living fossil, with a lineage that traces back over 270 million years. Its endurance through the ages, surviving events that led to the extinction of countless other species, has made it a symbol of resilience and longevity. The tree’s unique appearance and vibrant color transitions also embody beauty and elegance, attributes highly valued in Chinese culture.

Furthermore, the ginkgo has deep roots in Chinese traditional medicine, where various parts of the tree have been used for thousands of years to treat a range of ailments. This connection to wellness and vitality further enhances its status as a symbol of good health and long life.

Despite its revered status, there have not been significant controversies or debates regarding the ginkgo’s designation as a national symbol. The tree’s association with positive attributes and its historical and cultural significance have made it a widely accepted and celebrated symbol of China.

However, like many other species, the ginkgo faces challenges related to urban development and environmental changes. Efforts to conserve the ginkgo and ensure its presence for future generations continue to be an important focus for both government and conservation groups in China.

China Gingko leaves

Where is The Gingko Featured in China?

While the ginkgo tree holds a significant place in Chinese culture and history, it is not prominently featured on national symbols such as the flag or bank notes. However, it can be found in various other forms throughout the country, particularly in art, literature, and public spaces.

Many parks and temples across China feature ancient ginkgo trees, some of which are considered living monuments due to their age and size. These trees are often sought out by tourists and locals alike for their beauty and the sense of history they provide.

Names of The Gingko

The ginkgo tree is most commonly known by its scientific name, Ginkgo biloba, which refers to the two-lobed nature of its leaves. It is also sometimes referred to as the maidenhair tree, due to the resemblance of its leaves to those of the maidenhair fern.

In China, the tree is known as 银杏 (yínxìng), which translates to “silver apricot,” a reference to the appearance of its seeds. There are also various regional and folk names for the ginkgo, reflecting its widespread cultivation and significance across different parts of China.

Interesting Facts About The Gingko

  1. Living Fossil: The ginkgo tree is often referred to as a “living fossil,” as it has remained largely unchanged for over 200 million years. It is the sole survivor of an ancient group of trees that once flourished across the globe.
  2. Symbol of Resilience: Ginkgo trees were one of the few living things to survive the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. Six trees near the blast site are still alive today, symbolizing resilience and hope.
  3. Unique Leaf Shape: The ginkgo’s leaves are distinctive, being fan-shaped with a unique two-lobed appearance and radiating veins. They turn a brilliant yellow in the fall, creating stunning visual displays.
  4. Memory and Medicine: Ginkgo leaves are used in traditional Chinese medicine and are also a popular supplement worldwide, believed to enhance memory and cognitive function.
  5. Longevity: Some ginkgo trees in China are believed to be over 2,500 years old, making them some of the oldest living trees on the planet.
  6. Cultural Appearances: The ginkgo has appeared in Chinese literature and art for centuries, often symbolizing endurance, vitality, and beauty.
  7. Adaptability: Despite its ancient lineage, the ginkgo is highly adaptable and can thrive in harsh urban environments, making it a popular choice for street trees in cities around the world.
  8. Ginkgo’s Scent: The seeds of the ginkgo tree have a distinctive, unpleasant odor when they fall and start to decay. Despite this, they are considered a delicacy in East Asian cuisine when cooked.
  9. No Close Relatives: The ginkgo tree has no close living relatives, making it truly unique in the plant kingdom.
  10. Symbol of Friendship: In China, the ginkgo is often planted as a symbol of friendship, as the tree has a natural tendency to grow branches toward each other when planted in proximity.
China Gingko fruit

Other Beautiful Trees Found in China

  • Chinese Redbud (Cercis chinensis): A small deciduous tree or shrub known for its stunning pink flowers, which bloom in early spring. It holds a significant place in Chinese culture, symbolizing protection and the coming of spring.
  • Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa): Also known as the Empress Tree, it is famous for its large, fragrant purple flowers and fast growth. The wood is lightweight and highly valued in furniture making.
  • Osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans): A tree famous for its sweetly scented flowers, which are used in Chinese cuisine to make osmanthus tea and sweet-scented osmanthus cake. It is also the city flower of Guilin.
  • Dove Tree (Davidia involucrata): Also known as the Handkerchief Tree or Ghost Tree, it is noted for its large, white bracts that resemble handkerchiefs fluttering in the breeze.
  • Scholar Tree (Sophora japonica): A deciduous tree known for its lush foliage and clusters of white flowers. It has a long history in Chinese culture, often planted near temples and schools.

What Is The National Flower of China?

The national flower of China is the Peony (Paeonia lactiflora), known as 牡丹 (mǔdān) in Chinese. The peony is celebrated for its large, showy blooms and rich fragrance, symbolizing prosperity, beauty, and peace.

The flower has a storied history in Chinese culture, featured in art and literature for centuries. It holds a particularly special place in Chinese gardens, where it is cultivated in a variety of forms and colors. The peony blooms in late spring, attracting visitors from all over the country to witness its stunning display.

Frequently Asked Questions

How old can a ginkgo tree get?

Ginkgo trees are incredibly long-lived, with some specimens believed to be over 2,500 years old. They have a slow growth rate but can live for millennia under the right conditions.

Are ginkgo trees only found in China?

While the ginkgo tree is native to China, it has been cultivated around the world for centuries and can be found in many countries today. However, all ginkgo trees in cultivation are descended from trees that were originally found in China.

Can you eat parts of the ginkgo tree?

The seeds of the ginkgo tree, known as ginkgo nuts, are edible when cooked and are used in various East Asian dishes. However, they should not be consumed in large quantities due to the presence of toxins.

Why do ginkgo leaves turn yellow in the fall?

Ginkgo leaves contain high levels of pigments called carotenoids, which give the leaves their brilliant yellow color in the fall. This change in color is a result of the decrease in chlorophyll production as the tree prepares for winter.

Is the ginkgo tree used in traditional medicine?

Yes, ginkgo leaves have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, and ginkgo extract is a popular herbal supplement today, believed to improve memory and cognitive function.

Other National Symbols of China

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