This fall has been bright and colorful for those in and around Kansas City this year. Each day, the weather grows colder, but it seems the vibrancy of fall foliage continues to astound even those with ample chagrin at the cooling weather. One of the most notable transitions among the Autumn foliage is the change in the colors of the leaves on the gingko tree.  

Gingko biloba aka the ginkgo tree or maidenhair tree is considered by many to be a “living fossil”. Evidence in the fossil record shows what looks like a relative of the gingko surviving as long as 170 million years ago or during the Middle Jurassic. Extant (or living) gingkos found their haven in Eastern Asia, being cultivated for centuries as a tree with both spiritual and medicinal properties.  

The ancient Chinese name for the ginkgo translates to “silver apricot”.  

Ginkgos were historically cultivated in areas near Buddhist and Taoist temples. Their close association with Buddhist culture means that many cultures and nations throughout Asia recognize the symbolic importance of the gingko tree. In Japan they are common near Buddhist and Shinto shrine, several gingko trees even survived the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.  

In Taoist spirituality the yin represents the feminine energy and the yang represents the masculine. The ginkgo is the embodiment of this yin and yang energy. Ginkgos even have separate trees for males and females which aligns closely with this spiritual practice. Female trees produce the “ginkgo nut” which is regarded as a symbolic representation of hope and longevity.  

While ginkgos are not native to the new world, their hardiness makes them a great cultivar in urban environments. I have noticed that Kansas City has quite a prevalence for using them along roadways as ornamental plants. They have few insect predators and even contain phytochemicals that help protect them from disease and infection. 

In the Autumn you see gingko trees turn a bright saffron yellow as they prepare their transition to winter. Gingko trees are famous for losing all their leaves very suddenly, even within one day in some circumstances. I hope you are able to observe the elegant fall of the ginkgo leaves this Autumn.  

The genus biloba refers to the double-lobed shape of the gingko tree leaves.  

For more information on the beauty of trees, check out the following title available at the Mr. & Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library: 

Seeing trees: discover the extraordinary secrets of everyday trees by Nancy Ross Hugo; photography by Robert Llewellyn.