Sunday, July 22, 2007
Walking through town the other day, I came upon this Ginkgo tree. I can clearly remember the first time my mom pointed out a Ginkgo to my sister and me - the distinctive shape of the leaves was forever etched in my mind and I've taken pride in being able to identifying a Ginkgo from that day forward. Not that it's difficult. Once you've seen one, you won't forget it. The fan-shaped leaves and bright golden color in the autumn make it easy to recognize.
But I've just learned something fascinating about the Ginkgo tree. It is considered a "living fossil," which basically means that it lived during ancient times, was once thought to be extinct, but then was rediscovered, and still exists today in a form very similar to the fossils of its prehistoric ancestors. The horseshoe crab and the cockroach have changed very little over millions of years, and are also considered living fossils.
Scientists do not know whether the Ginkgo tree still exists in the wild because it has been cultivated and tended for thousands of years by Chinese monks. The monks may have helped keep the species alive when it otherwise may have gone extinct. In any case, the Ginkgo is a wonderful tree. A brilliant example of longevity. And Ginkgo extract has also been used medicinally to help circulatory disorders and enhance memory.
May the Ginkgo live another 270 million years!