Plant of the Month December 2017

Autumn colouring with a tea house – Ginkgo biloba – Ginkgo tree

The ginkgo or ginko (Ginkgo biloba) is a tree species that is native to China and planted worldwide today. It is the only living species of the ginkgoales, an otherwise extinct group of seed plants. Natural populations are known only from the border regions of the Anhui, Guizhou and Zhejiang provinces in southwest China. In East Asia , the tree is cultivated for its edible seeds or as a temple tree. It was brought to Europe from Japanaround 1730 by Dutch sailors. It was planted in the Botanical Garden of Utrecht for the first time and has since been used mainly in parks. Its name is originally derived from the Chinese word ‘ginkyo’ which means silver apricot.

At the turn of the millennium, the German "Curatorium Tree of the Year” declared Ginkgo biloba a memorial for environmental protection and peace and the tree of the millennium. It can grow to 1000 years and older and reach heights of up to 40 metres. Ginkgo are amazingly wind proof, resistant to air pollution and are not attacked by diseases in Europe. Older trees develop strong root-like teat-shaped outgrowths on the underside of strong branches and the trunk, which can grow to several metres in length. These aerial-root-like structures, which are also somewhat reminiscent of the stalactites of caverns, are called ‘tschitschi’. Little is known about their significance. As they grow perpendicular to the ground, they could be ‘leftovers’ of root-like organs of extinct ginkgo species that were native to swampy forests. The prehistoric tree relic is neither a coniferous shrub nor an angiospermous flowering plant but rather has a special position. According to a widely held opinion [5] , the fan leaves inherited their characteristic shape from coalesced needles during their evolutionary history. However, this belief is not founded in science and cannot be documented anatomically, developmentally or evolutionarily. Most ginkgos are, however, assigned to the conifers, as they are closer to them from their evolutionary history. The leaves of the plant contain flavonoids and are used for pharmaceutical purposes today.

Gingo biloba (also: Ginkgo biloba) is also the title of a poem about the dichotomous (latin: biloba) leaf of a gingko tree, which Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in September 1815 and published in his collection West–Eastern Diwan in 1819. The poem is dedicated to Goethe's later love, Marianne von Willemer, and portrays the ginkgo leaf as a symbol of friendship due to its shape. The letter along with the poem, with which Goethe enclosed two ginkgo leaves, can be seen today in the Goethe Museum Düsseldorf . It is known that Goethe looked at the dichotomous leaves of the ginkgo and mused on their form. Around 1815, the Weimar court gardener Johann Conrad Sckell planted a gingko behind the royal house in today’s Puschkinstrasse in Weimar at the behest of Goethe, which can still be seen. It is considered to be one of the oldest specimens in Europe with over four metres in circumference.

Goethe would most certainly have liked the romantic tea house in the rhododendron park of the Bruns nursery in Gristede Certainly during his lifetime, which offer a view of the autumnal ginkgo foliage for a secretive rendezvous at Christmas with his late love Marianne von Willemer.