One of the great things about being a Bonsai enthusiast is the wide range of species one can raise as Bonsai, and the fascinating history they often have. Undoubtedly, one of the most fascinating Bonsai species is the Gingko biloba, or just gingko. Not only is this a truly unique and interesting plant, but raising one in your garden could have some unexpected benefits!
The Long, Long, Long History Of Gingko
The noble Gingko biloba is a true survivor.
According to fossil records, the earliest ancestors of the gingko appeared in the Permian period - nearly 300 million years ago. This was before the time of the dinosaurs! In fact, the boundary between the Permian and the Triassic (when the first dinosaurs appeared) was marked by the most extreme extinction event in Earth's history. Roughly 80% of all life on Earth ended.
But not the gingko. It survived the Permian-Triassic extinction event, and thrived throughout the time of the dinosaurs in a form nearly identical to the tree we have today.
It's a wholly unique species, and the last of its family - there's truly no other tree like it anywhere on Earth. It's prized in part because of the look of its foliage, midway between "leaf" and "frond," making it a wholly distinct addition to any bonsai enthusiast's garden.
Caring For A Gingko Biloba
The gingko is an outdoor plant, but it's noted for being amazingly hearty and one of the longest-lived trees on earth. The oldest known Gingko biloba tree on Earth is over three thousand years old, and considered a national treasure by the Chinese.
When properly cared for -and it's very hard to kill- a gingko bonsai can be an estate heirloom which will almost certainly outlive you.
The gingko does best in hotter climates, and wants plenty of water - which makes sense, given that it evolved when Earth was significantly warmer and wetter. It can survive even in nonstop direct sunlight, although allowing it some shade is recommended.
Ginkgo biloba is a deciduous plant, so it sheds its leaves in the fall and goes dormant for the winter. In fact, its leaves turn a beautiful golden hue in the fall, making for a wonderful autumn treat. Cold is one of the few things which can do real damage to a gingko, so if you're in northern areas, make sure to protect it from winter weather.
If you do, you're in for an even better treat...
Gingko: The Brain Plant
For thousands of years, the gingko has been prized in eastern medicine for its healing properties. Better yet, many scientific studies have confirmed that gingko products do have medicinal properties. It improves bloodflow, and acts as an antioxidant. In some people, it even seems to bring short-term benefits to thinking and memory development!
Any gingko owner can easily make medicinal tea from the leaves. Literally all it takes is seeping a few leaves in boiling water for a few minutes. So every time you prune your gingko bonsai, you get a bit of a treat!
But, a couple warnings: First, check with your doctor to make sure it's safe for you to use ginkgo. Allergies are possible. Also, while it's rare for a bonsai-sized gingko to go into full bloom, if it does the fruit and nuts are moderately toxic. Only consume the leaves.
If you're thinking of bringing a gingko into your garden, you're in for a great time. It's a piece of history, a conversation piece, and a source of medicine too! For more care information, please refer to our full care guide.