Ginkgo biloba

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Ginkgo biloba L.

alt=Description of Ginkgo biloba. filare.jpg picture.
November scenery in Florence
Order Ginkgoales
Family Ginkgoaceae
Genus Ginkgo

2n = 24

Origin : China


English ginkgo
French ginkgo

Uses summary
  • ornamental and alignment tree
  • "almonds" consumed in China and called "white nuts"
  • many medicinal uses
  • wood used for furniture
  • bark: tannin
  • sacred tree of Buddhists, planted near temples


  • dioecious tree, up to 40 m tall
  • light gray bark, with longitudinal rifts
  • petiolate leaves, up to 9 cm long, fan-shaped, turning golden yellow in autumn
  • long twigs with two-lobes split leaves
  • short twigs with unsplit leaves
  • ivory colored male cones, 1-2 cm long
  • elliptical or subglobular seeds, 2-3 cm long, with a yellow or orange sarcotesta becoming viscous and foul-smelling, and a hard and white sclerotesta

The ginkgo is considered as a "living fossil", since it's the only representative of the “Ginkgophyta” division.

The seeds germinate without dormancy. Female individuals are rarely planted because of the smell and stickiness of the seeds on the ground.

Popular names

English ginkgo tree, maidenhair tree / ginkgo nut, “white nut”
french ginkgo, arbre aux quarante écus / noix de gingko
german Ginkgobaum
Dutch japanse noteboom
Italian gingko, noce del Giappone
Chinese 银杏 - yínxìng (« abricotier d’argent »), bái guǒ (« fruit blanc »)
Japanese ginkyō


Ginkgo biloba L. (1771)



Ginkgo has long been considered extinct in nature. It is now believed that it could have persisted within two Pleistocene refuges in southwest China and east China (West Mount Tianmu). From there, it could have propagated, first to the rest of China, and then to Korea and Japan (during the 13th-14th centuries).

Ginkgo was first introduced to Europe by Engelbert Kaempfer, who first saw it in Japan in 1691 in Japan, and described it in Amoenitatum exoticarum in 1712. He's believed to have brought seeds back to Utrecht, where the first tree was planted in 1730.

Then, male individuals have been implanted on the following dates :

  • 1730, Geetbets (Belgium)
  • 1750, Anduze (France)
  • 1750, Padua (Italy)
  • 1758, Slavkov (Czech Republic)
  • 1762, Kew (United Kingdom)
  • 1770, Vienna (Austria)
  • 1777, Daruvar (Croatia)
  • 1781, Harbke (Germany)
  • 1784, Philadelphia (United States)
  • 1788, Montpellier (France) (1795 according to the label)

The first known female individual grows in Geneva (Switzerland). One of its grafts was then grafted in 1814 on the tree of Montpellier (1830 according to the label). Curiously, according to Zhao et al. (2010), European genotypes actually come from Korea, and not from Japan.


white nuts


  • Chauvet, Michel, 2018. fr:Encyclopédie des plantes alimentaires. Paris, Belin. 880 p. (p. 282)
  • Del Tredici, P., Ling, H. & Yang, C., 1992. The Ginkgos of Tian Mu Shan. Conservation Biology, 6:202-209.
  • Franklin, A. H., 1959. Ginkgo biloba L.: Historical summary and bibliography. Virginia J. Sci., n. s. 10: 131-176.
  • Gong, W., Chen, C., Dobes C., Fu, C.X. & Koch, M.A. 2008. Phylogeography of a living fossil: Pleistocene glaciations forced Ginkgo biloba L. (Ginkgoaceae) into two refuge areas in China with limited subsequent postglacial expansion. Molec. Phylog. Evol., 48: 1094–1105.
  • Mure, Véronique, 2014. L’arbre aux quarante écus, des jardins des rois à Hiroshima. Botanique, Jardins, Paysages.
  • Nagata, Toshiyuki, DuVal, Ashley & Crane, Peter R., 2015. Engelbert Kaempfer, Genemon Imamura and the origin of the name Ginkgo. Taxon, 64(1) : 131-136.
  • Zhao, Yunpeng et al., 2010. Out of China : distribution history of Ginkgo biloba L. Taxon, 59(2) : 495-504.