Peter Crane, an evolutionary biologist and author of “Ginkgo: The Tree that Time Forgot,” said contemplating long-lived trees might help us to see further into the future than many of us tend to look. So it is a good example of a living fossil, like the coelacanth, which has also changed very little over millions of years. Yale Environment 360: You’ve been studying ginkgo trees for a long time. • They’ll take sticks and bang them up into the branches to try to get the seeds to come down. The golden ocean is left each year under the Ginkgo tree when fall comes closing in. Autumn in Beijing is colorful as purpleblow maples turn red and ginkgo leaves yellow. You hear stories of dogs, for example, eating ginkgo seeds — sometimes with not a terribly happy outcome in that they don’t feel so good afterward. Crane: Yes. As it turns out, individual trees can live over 1,000 years (some accounts suggest 3,000 even), and now, the most detailed study to date suggests their lifespan is theoretically unlimited.. Ginkgo biloba, known as gingko or maidenhair tree, is the only Can you explain?Crane: Yes, in many places where ginkgo is planted in the West, people who’ve known ginkgo or know about ginkgo through their cultural background, will often seek out the trees in the fall and collect the seeds. You tell a story about a Harlem homeowner who has a ginkgo tree in front of her house and finds people in it regardless of the smell. It is known to be the best herbal supplement in … The ginkgo is a living fossil. There’s some evidence that it’s helpful in some ways, but the large-scale trials that we expect from our drugs these days have been unable to be really definitive about that. So reflecting on a plant like ginkgo that was around in very different ecosystems when the dinosaurs were on the planet, that has been around for hundreds of millions of years, really puts our own species — let alone our own individual existence — into a broader context.It’s a bit like those diagrams that you see, where there’s a picture of the Milky Way and there’s a little sign that says, “You are here.” Well, it’s the same idea. And the study did point out a few very subtle differences. By comparing very old and young ginkgos in China, scientists found an explanation for their longevity. And it seems to survive in a street setting: its roots aren’t getting much oxygen, they’re getting a lot of salt and goodness knows what else is getting poured on them, and it seems relatively resistant to those problems. By examining the genetics of the vascular cambium, a layer or cylinder of living cells behind the bark, they found that the ginkgo grows wide indefinitely through old age. A Ginkgo tree growing in Guizhou Province, China, that is more than 1,000 years old. One of the benefits, which I had never thought about before, is how trees along a street make it feel narrower and cause drivers to go more slowly. It's the sole survivor of an ancient group of trees that date back to before dinosaurs roamed the Earth – creatures that lived between 245 and 66 million years ago. But in the same way that we’ve used ex situ methods for conserving large mammals, charismatic animals, I think conservation through cultivation is an important part of the toolkit for preserving plant diversity for the future.e360: You’ve talked about how one of the things that drew you to learn more about the ginkgo was the sense of timelessness that its history gives you and how that helps us think about our place in the world. But probably living plants weren’t introduced into Europe until a few decades after that — perhaps in the 1730s, but I think more likely in the 1750s.e360: Ginkgoes have long been valued for their healing properties, their medicinal properties, particularly for helping memory. Ginkgo seeds have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, and cooked seeds are occasionally eaten. Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as ginkgo or gingko , also known as the maidenhair tree, is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all others being extinct. Sign up for the E360 Newsletter →, An early Western botanical illustration of, The Life Story of The Oldest Tree on Earth, Overview: Transforming Land and Sea for a More Sustainable World, How Non-Native Plants Are Contributing to a Global Insect Decline, Amid Tensions in Myanmar, An Indigenous Park of Peace Is Born. Crane, who is dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, has written what he describes as a biography of the oldest tree on earth, a living link to the age of the dinosaurs. Listed as endangered in the IUCN red list of threatened species (Ginkgo biloba). Today, the ginkgo is the only specimen left of its kind! And then often, what saves us from the smell is that they all freeze. The evidence points to the fact that ginkgo was probably always a rather rare tree, and that it first attracted the attention of people about a thousand years ago. The ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is a living fossil, with fossils similar to the modern plant dating back to the Permian, 270 million years ago. The ginkgo is a very old tree of the Ginkgoales species. What is ginkgo extract? We’re only here for a short time, whereas some things have been here for a really long time. Which plant species have remained relatively unevolved when compared to other evolved plants? Ginkgo trees are so ancient, they have been around at the same time as dinosaurs, and the last dinosaurs lived 66 million years ago. So this is a use that we’ve invented for it in the West, rather than a use that has come to us from China. The Ginkgo tree here is reportedly 1,000 years old and is easily accessible in the suburbs of Beijing. They’ve survived some of our world’s greatest catastrophes, from the extinction of the dinosaurs to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. But you also see it all over Manhattan. It’s so ancient, the species is known as a ' … In Boost for Renewables, Grid-Scale Battery Storage Is on the Rise, Filthy Water: A Basic Sanitation Problem Persists in Rural America, How Biden Can Put the U.S. on a Path to Carbon-Free Electricity, As South Africa Clings to Coal, A Struggle for the Right to Breathe, Equitable Retreat: The Need for Fairness in Relocating Coastal Communities, At Sea and in Court, the Fight to Save Right Whales Intensifies, Learning How to Talk: What Climate Activists Must Do in the Biden Era. And sometimes people won’t wait for the seeds to fall. Probably either now or in the past the smell has been attractive to animals. They’re all more closely related to each other than they are to anything else. Here, we show that trees up to 600 y of age display similar leaf areas, leaf photosynthetic efficiencies, and seed germination rates. That’s somewhat unusual in the plant and animal world, isn’t it? Probably originally as a nut — a rather unusual nut tree. 2. Particularly with people from Korea or China or Japan, it’s quite common. But you have to look more closely to really assess whether those leaves were produced by plants that are identical to modern ginkgo. Crane: It’s the outer part of the seed that produces the smell, and it smells, to put it bluntly, like vomit. e360: So their theory would say that the ginkgo smell would have attracted dinosaurs to eat it?Crane: Yes, or more likely some mammals that died out much more recently. However, it remains to be seen whether those differences hold up. It is found in fossils dating back about 300-million years. A single ginkgo may live for hundreds of years, maybe more than a thousand. e360: Most of us know ginkgo from its very distinctive, fan-shaped leaves, and also from its very distinctive smell. It is the oldest surviving tree species, having remained on the planet, relatively unchanged for some 200 million years. The ginkgo tree is one of the oldest types of trees in the world. Ginkgo trees, one of nature's oldest surviving tree species, is a living fossil. In China, for a long time there was a lot of discussion about whether there were any native ginkgos at all, or whether all of them had the hand of people in their past. e360: How widely, and in what places is it most common?Crane: Well, it’s particularly widespread in the East: you see it all over Tokyo, you see it all over Seoul. But in a way, “the immune system in these trees, even though they’re 1,000 years old, looks like that of a 20-year-old.”. Botanist Peter Crane, who has a written what he calls a biography of this unique tree, talks to Yale Environment 360 about the inspiring history and cultural significance of the ginkgo. Here are some photos of ginkgo trees taken in Beijing. When we think about flowering plants, there are about 350,000 living species. AJYI/Ko.Yo. I don’t think there’s really strong evidence for its efficacy, but on the other hand, there are conflicting results. Ginkgo Biloba also known as the maidenhair tree is derived from one of the oldest tree species in the entire world. How did you come to develop an interest in them?Peter Crane: I think that anyone who is seriously interested in plants inevitably comes across ginkgo pretty early in their training, because there are only five living groups of seed plants, and ginkgo is one of them. And I think it’s true to say the results are equivocal. It declined in diversity as the Cretaceous progressed with the extinction o… That is another message in the book. How do we know that?Crane: If you look at fossils from more than 200 million years ago, you can see leaves that are very very similar to modern ginkgo leaves. e360: I was surprised to learn from your book that the ginkgo nut is potentially toxic?Crane: Yes, it does have some toxicity to it. Known as a 'living fossil', the Ginkgo biloba is one of the world's oldest living tree species: it was around 350 million years ago! Eventually, even ginkgo trees die. Ginkgo leaf has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine for its wellness-supporting properties. Did the medicinal use of ginkgo emerge in China, and if so, how recent is its move to the West?Crane: That’s a very interesting question, because if you look and see how ginkgo is used medicinally in China, it’s mainly the seeds that are used. So it's a wonder that one of our pretties autumn trees, which happens to be one of nature's oldest, is allowed to go so underappreciated. Ginkgo biloba is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, and specimens can live for over 1,000 y. Native to China, the tree is widely cultivated, and was cultivated early in human history. Stone Buddha Temple, Beijing. So it’s just a good old tough tree, and it is incredibly widely planted. He is the one who first uses the word in the Western literature — ginkgo — and he provides an illustration of it. Once we’re born, all of our parts are there, and at a certain point they just start to give out on us.”. Sole survivor. The trees can grow more than 130 feet tall and can live for over 1,000 years. Never miss a feature! That’s because the genes in the cambium contain no program for senescence, or death, they say, but continue their program for making defenses even after hundreds of years. More than likely, it reflects some sort of adaptation or modification in its dispersal biology. The ancient tree grows next to the Gu Guanyin Buddhist Temple in the Zhongnan Mountains and is a perfect celebration of autumn. There are records of the seeds being eaten by badgers and so on, and as I talk to people it’s clear that the seeds do still move around. There are 3 other Ginkgo trees at the temple, the tallest being 30 metres, with a diameter of 7 to 8 metres. And this is pretty much a Western phenomenon. Is that the right way to look at it?Crane: Yes, I think that’s right. Among these lists (there are other if you’re interested to google the question,) the bristle cone pine is usually cited as being possibly the oldest tree on Earth; and surely the gingko species doesn’t contain any individuals whose years number in the thousands. Essentially, trees like ginkgo could live forever, says Peter Brown, a biologist who runs Rocky Mountain Tree Ring Research and was not involved in the study. Ginkgo has been used for many years for a variety of medicinal purposes. He and others presume that studies on other trees like redwoods or Methuselah would produce similar results. But botanist Peter Crane sees the ginkgo as much more — an oddity in nature because it is a single species with no known living relatives; a living fossil that has been essentially unchanged for more than 200 million years; and an inspiring example of how humans can help a species survive. It’s generally recommended that people don’t eat too many of these seeds. Ginkgo biloba is a popular supplement and one of the top-selling herbal medicines. The Ginkgo tree, which dates back 200 million years, is the unsung hero of so many Southern neighborhoods. “In humans, as we age, our immune system begins to start to not be so good,” said Richard Dixon, a biologist at the University of North Texas. They provide shade; they make the place a lot more comfortable. A small proportion of the population seems to have a bad reaction to ginkgo, but it’s a very small proportion. But it must be part of a dispersal system. It makes sense, but I had never thought of it. The word ginkgo comes from the Chinese yinxing meaning 'silver apricot'.It was named the maidenhair tree in England because the leaves look similar to … Crane: Obviously, we’re evolved to live in the present, so we’re very focused on the short-term. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see my name get synonymized back into Ginkgo biloba at some point.e360: By distributing ginkgo around the planet, humans have, unlike with many other species, helped ensure the ginkgo’s survival. But the cambium, contained within the tree’s trunk, remains intact and active. I’ve seen them in Chicago. Can you describe some of the other benefits that street trees bring to a city or an urban setting? Golden leaves have been falling on the ground since mid-November, turning the temple’s ground into a yellow ocean. The medicinal uses in the East and the supposed medicinal uses in the West have gone in different directions, using two different parts of the plant — mainly the seeds in the East, and mainly the leaves in the West. Revered for its beauty and its longevity, the ginkgo is a living fossil, unchanged for more than 200 million years. One of the points I wanted to draw out in the book is that in the past there were a variety of ginkgo-like plants, but this is the only one surviving.e360: You describe the ginkgo as a “living fossil,” in the sense that in many ways it’s unchanged in more than 200 million years. Ginkgo biloba is the oldest living tree species on the planet today. So it’s an important plant in any botanist’s view of the plant world — you inevitably run across it early in your training. To address this, we investigated age-related changes in the vascular cambium from 15- … And you know, the seeds are very attractive — once that smell’s gone, they look a bit like a pistachio. By Roger Cohn https://e360.yale.edu/features/peter_crane_history_of_ginkgo_earths_oldest_tree Maidenhair trees can be extremely long-lived, the oldest recorded individual being 3,500 years old. The species is practically immortal - and that's not an exaggeration. There’s a lot of Chinese literature from before 1,000 years ago, and it doesn’t mention ginkgo, while it does mention a lot of other plants. Its uniquely fan-shaped leaves turn a vibrant sun yellow every autumn, making the average street look like a fairytale movie set. And in an evolutionary sense, they’re equivalent to that one species of ginkgo. Most reputable nurseries will sell only males. Researchers Decode Genome of Ginkgo biloba. e360: You certainly see ginkgos everywhere, especially in New York City. There’s this wonderful idea that [Daniel] Janzen and [Paul] Martin published about how many neo-tropical fruits don’t appear to have any dispersers in the contemporary fauna. And so trees create a less sterile environment and encourage people to want to be outside, with all the benefits that come from people being out and about — from having kids playing outside, to having neighbors keep an eye on each other’s houses, to encouraging people to linger in a shopping area that they would otherwise walk right through. And though humans are quite different from trees, contemplating them serves some purpose. Ginkgo is considered the oldest tree species to survive on earth, with a history dating back over 200 million years. If we could go back in a time machine, maybe we would find some differences, but I suspect not. Over time, weather or other things damage the apical meristem, limiting a tree’s height. But the idea is that the tree now could be out of phase with its dispersal agents. Sometimes trees may be reduced to just hollow stumps, but with the cambium intact, they can still produce leaves and flowers or even live as stumps. I think today most people would plant males. This Ginkgo was planted in the Tang Dynasty, 1,200 years ago! The trees grow up and out: Up, with a cell-generating region called the apical meristem, and out, with the vascular cambium. Crane: It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly does it. The Ginkgo is a living fossil, as a unique species recognisably similar to fossils dating back 270 million years. Native to a small range within China, it is difficult to find ginkgo growing in the wild but the tree is extensively cultivated globally. It is said to grow 300 million years ago. A team of scientists in China has sequenced the genome of Ginkgo biloba, the oldest living tree species. It’s thoroughly memorable.e360: You’ve mentioned that ginkgo is something of a biological oddity in that it’s a single species with no living relatives. That ought to encourage us to take the long view as we think about our relationship to the natural world. Although ginkgos live long, they do age. What is with the smell? And their idea was that as many large mammals went extinct about 10,000 years ago, many plants actually lost their most important dispersal agents. Old trees also produce just as many seeds and their leaves are just as resourceful as those of young trees. And guess what? But I think there are a lot of intangible benefits too: people want to walk in the shade, they want to be out in the shade. The trees don’t necessarily die of old age, he says. It has various uses in traditional medicine and as a source of food. Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as ginkgo or gingko, and also known as the maidenhair tree, is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta. And that work has been done now, by my colleague [Chinese paleobotanist] Zhou Zhiyan, who has worked on fossil material from China. Green Hydrogen: Could It Be Key to a Carbon-Free Economy. Ginkgo or Ginkgo biloba is one of the world’s oldest living tree species. It’s a bit of an enigma in that respect — it’s difficult to prove its value.e360: You write in the book about how the ginkgo’s resilience has enabled it to become quite a popular street tree — it can take a lot of abuse. A 1,400-year-old ginkgo tree in China has recently drawn thousands of people from all over the country. But a big question remains: Why? He and colleagues in China and the United States compared young and old ginkgo trees, ranging in age from 15 to 1,300 years old, in a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Guess what? And then it was moved around and grown for its nuts in China, before eventually — maybe in the 14th or 15th centuries — making its way up the coastal trade routes into Korea and Japan.e360: And how and when did it appear in the West?Crane: The first Westerner to encounter ginkgo — or at least the first Westerner to encounter it and write about it — was Engelbert Kaempfer, who was with the Dutch East India Company at their trading station in southern Japan in 1692. Millions of urban dwellers know the ginkgo primarily as a street tree, with elegant, fan-shaped leaves, foul-smelling fruits, and nuts prized for their reputed medicinal properties. Ginkgo biloba. It is believed to have first appeared in Japan around 1,000 years ago and is now an integral part of the Japanese landscape. Although some tree species can live for centuries or millennia, the molecular and metabolic mechanisms underlying their longevity are unclear. But it’s very difficult to exclude the possibility that even those have been aided by people. Ginkgo biloba (also called the maidenhair tree) is often referred to as a “living fossil,” because it is the only remaining representative of a perished botanical family (the Ginkgoaceae) and is considered to be the oldest living tree species . They generate defenses and carry water and nutrients so the tree grows and stays healthy. Though it has yet to be tested, the researchers believe other old trees — think of the 4,800-year-old bristlecone known as Methuselah in eastern California — may have a similar pattern of genetic programming. Fossils attributable to the genus Ginkgo first appeared in the Early Jurassic, and the genus diversified and spread throughout Laurasia during the middle Jurassic and Early Cretaceous. May 1, 2013. e360: When was the ginkgo first cultivated by humans?Crane: Our best estimate is about 1,000 years ago in China, which is somewhat late for the cultivation of many plants in China. It also known as the maidenhair tree, It is a very old species, with some fossils dating back 270 million years. Something — pests, drought, development — kills them first. Giant sequoias in central California routinely reach over 3,000 years in age. Crane: They’re usually on the ground in the late fall here in temperate North America. I’m sure those seeds are used locally because people enjoy eating them. The ginkgo, which co-existed with the dinosaurs, “really puts our own species — let alone our individual existence — into a broader context,” says Crane. The interesting question is, are the things that adapted to disperse it still around? I’ve eaten ginkgo seeds many times. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Crane explains what makes the ginkgo unique and what makes it smell, how its toughness and resilience has enabled it to thrive, and what the tree’s long history says about human life on earth. And we see today ginkgo being sold pretty widely in health food stores. e360: You actually have an ancient species of ginkgo, Ginkgo cranei, named after you, right?Crane: Well, yes, that’s the fossil ginkgo from North Dakota that I worked on as a researcher, which a colleague quite recently very kindly named after me. You see them in Central Park [in New York]. One of our biggest shortcomings is that we can’t see the long-term, and we see that in the way we respond to all kinds of environmental issues. You see them all over. In the rings and genes of Ginkgo biloba trees in China, some of which are confirmed to be more than 1,000 years old, scientists are starting to find answers. Crane: Yes. And ginkgo is the only one that consists of just one species. While ageing and death are a natural part of being alive in this world, some plants like the ginkgo show few signs of growing old. “It’s kind of a way of calibrating how quickly our world is changing and reminding us that we shouldn’t always be thinking of the short term.”, The Secret That Helps Some Trees Live More Than 1,000 Years. What makes the ginkgo so resilient as a tree? But the ginkgo is solitary and unique, not very obviously related to any living plant. In New York City, the parks department has a policy of planting only males? A million years ago, this variety of trees began to die out, leaving behind only a handful of shoots in northern Asia. Cell division tends to slow down after the age of 200, they found. The universe doesn’t revolve around us. Some trees in China are said to be over 2,500 years old. I think the consensus now is that probably a couple of wild, original populations still exist in China. Ginkgo leaves in the autumn. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/13/science/oldest-trees-ginkgos.html A 1,400-year-old tree, Ginkgo biloba, also known as maidenhair tree, maybe old and even ancient, but its beauty attracts people all around the world. Species Profile Geography and distribution Ginkgo biloba is native to China, where the survival of wild trees is not secure. “Being modular organisms, every year they’re putting on new wood, new roots, new leaves, new sex organs,” he said. Crane: I think most obviously they help reduce the urban heat island effect. Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as ginkgo or gingko, is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all others being extinct. It is a member of a very old genus, with some fossils dating back 200 million years. The Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living tree species in the world. The plant is dioecious, that is, there are male and female trees. Ginkgo Biloba is also called as Maidenhair tree. And they have a nice nutritious meat in them, so they would attract animals like squirrels.e360: When are the seeds on the ground? But the cells are still viable. His new book, Ginkgo, tells the story of a tree that over centuries has made its way from China across Asia and around the world and today is found along streets everywhere from Seoul to New York. This tree, which humbly lines the sidewalks of So the trees are dropping their seeds in late November, December. And guess what? Millenia-old trees have held their place on Earth long and steady, and scientists have been curious about how they’re able to survive for so long. So something’s moving them. And each year, leaves die and fall off. Considered the oldest surviving tree species, the Ginkgo biloba has been on the planet for around 200 million years and has stayed relatively unchanged. Or are they extinct? Can Geothermal Power Play a Key Role in the Energy Transition? Aging is a universal property of multicellular organisms. The exact formulation of ginkgo extract in products available to consumers in the U.S. can vary from … And what he’s noticed is that there are some differences in the ways that the seeds are attached in these fossil plants — but in the grand scheme of things, they’re not very different.With the fossils that I’ve worked on myself, from about 65 million years ago, we were able to determine exactly how the seeds were attached to the plant, and they were attached in an identical way to modern ginkgo. e360: Are there any scientific studies that looked at the efficacy of the medicinal properties, like for memory enhancement — either for the leaves or the seeds?Crane: The most work’s been done on the leaves in the West. I think by cultivating plants like ginkgo that are very rare in the wild, we’ve sort of taken out insurance for their long-term survival. So in a sense, the plants have continued to live on, while the dispersers themselves have already gone extinct. The other thing is that it has such a distinctive leaf — once you see it, you don’t forget it. Yet, the Ginkgo biloba that you buy in health food stores here is an extract of the leaves. “They’re not like an animal, like us. When he returned, he wrote his account of his time in Japan. remained on the planet, relatively unchanged for some 200 million years, study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Ginkgo species were once common in North America and Europe. But in a way it’ll be interesting to see if the name survives, because giving it a separate name implies that it’s actually different from modern ginkgo. Crane: A little over 200 million years old. Obviously we should try to preserve animals and plants in their native habitats, where they’re part of a functioning integrated ecosystem. Is that the late fall? It is the oldest surviving tree species on the earth. We’re not at the center of everything. But the leaves are particularly unattractive to pests, so it doesn’t suffer from the pest problems that some trees do. What are the oldest living plant species on Earth? The oldest living organism in the world – old Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree – has survived for over 4,700 years. Ginkgo extract is made from the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree. Native to China, the ginkgo is widely cultivated. An early Western botanical illustration of Ginkgo biloba, published in Europe in 1835. e360: You mentioned in the book that the female seeds are the ones that smell. e360: One of the things you get into in the book is the broader discussion of the importance of street trees. The closest living relatives of the clade are the cycads, which share with the extant G. biloba the characteristic of motile sperm. King of Ginkgo Trees, Dajue Tempel: Dieter Albrecht: 2018: 3: Japan: 820 ± 200 y: 1200 ± 200: Zempuku-ji Temple, Minato: Tiziano Rootman Fratus: 2017: 4: United States: 320 y: 1700: My property, West Chester: Bala1759: 2017: 172 ± 5 y: 1848 ± 5: Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park, Chico: Wim Brinkerink: 2018: 160 ± 20 y: 1860 ± 20: My property, West Chester: BeeEnvironment: 2020: 5: Italy: 270 y: 1750 Once you start to recognize ginkgo trees in the urban landscape, you start to see them everywhere. And I’m sure none of those seeds are sold into commerce. You start to recognize ginkgo trees in China are said to grow 300 million years in their habitats. And stays healthy original populations still exist in China are said to grow 300 million years the past smell... ’ ll take sticks and bang them up into the branches to to. A variety of medicinal purposes assess whether those differences hold up 1,000 y of trees. 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