The tree got its common name due to the similarity of its leaf to the maidenhair fern. The similarity doesn’t end there. It is a single species in a single genus and family. Its closest relation is the palm-like Cycad. Both Ginkgos, Cycads and ferns reproduce with a motile sperm. This is a long way from all other broad-leaved trees. Ginkgo is the sole survivor of the forests of 200 million years ago, and for much of that time it has not changed its form, hence it is called a `living fossil.’
Fossils have been found in London and the tree is known to have had a worldwide distribution. It retreated some time ago to remote parts of China, where it is thought to have survived in forests which belonged to tempies and therefore remained uncut. Only in 1750 did it reappear in England in a nursery at Mile End. That tree found its way to Kew, where it can be seen today. It grows up to 80 ft. in this country but is taller and longer-lived elsewhere.
There are male and female trees and ours in the Park are all thought to be males. Females are rare, originally grafted onto males to obtain fruits (At Kew, the rare female branches were accidentally pruned off.) When the fruit does form it smells like rancid butter, and the Japanese were known to use it as a hangover cure! It is pollution resistant and has virtually no known parasites; they are all thought to have died out along the way.
We have a number of trees in the Park, which are easy to recognise by their fern-like notched leaves and the brilliant buttery yellow they turn in the autumn.