Crane (School of Forestry and Environmental Studies/Yale Univ.) shares his fascination with the ginkgo tree.
During his tenure as the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, the author lived on the property. An iconic ginkgo that grew next to his house was the oldest in the U.K. and was a magnet for dignitaries and tourists. This 200-million-year-old species has proven to be remarkably resilient. It survived the extinction event that eliminated the dinosaur population and flourished in the Northern Hemisphere up until the Great Ice Age, when it maintained a foothold in China, from which it gradually spread to Korea and Japan. Buddhists considered it to be a sacred tree. As Asia was opened to the West, the tree was brought back to Europe, where it now adorns city streets, and then to North America. It has been determined experimentally that ginkgos mainly reproduce sexually, with a “rigid separate sex system,” but they occasionally exhibit bisexual behavior. Paleobotanists and geneticists have determined the species’ approximate age but are still working on its degree of kinship to modern vegetation such as conifers and flowering plants, as well as how it “fits into the broader constellation of living and extinct plant diversity.” The tree, called the “Holy One of the East" by Chiang Kai-shek, was a symbol of Chinese nationalism in the fight against communism.
An entertaining introduction to botanical lore.