May 18
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Endangered Species of the Week: Maidenhair tree

Photo of maidenhair tree fruit and leaves

Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)

Species: Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The maidenhair tree is known as a ‘living fossil’, as it is the only surviving member of a group of trees dating back to before the time of the dinosaurs.

A large tree with characteristically fan-shaped leaves, the maidenhair tree gets its common name from the resemblance of its leaves to those of maidenhair ferns (Adiantum species). Its leaves are greenish-yellow, but turn a beautiful golden yellow in autumn. The maidenhair tree takes 20 to 35 years to reach maturity, and can be very long lived, with the oldest recorded individual being an estimated 3,500 years old. Maidenhair trees are either male or female, with male trees producing pollen on catkin-like cones and females producing smelly, flesh-coated seeds. The maidenhair tree has been widely used in traditional medicine in China and Japan, and its nuts are edible if cooked. An extract of the plant’s leaves is now one of the most popular herbal remedies in the West, being used to treat a variety of ailments.

The maidenhair tree has been widely planted as an ornamental tree and for its medicinal properties. This species was traditionally grown in temple gardens in Japan and China, but is now popular worldwide. Unfortunately, its survival in the wild is less secure, mainly due to widespread deforestation. A few individuals are found on Mount Xitianmu in China, but it is not clear whether they are truly wild or are descended from temple garden trees. No specific conservation measures are currently in place for this unique tree, but its worldwide popularity means it is likely to persist in cultivation into the future.

Find out more about the maidenhair tree at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – Maidenhair tree.

See images of the maidenhair tree on ARKive.

Today is Plant Conservation Day! Find out more at the Plant Conservation Day website.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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