The Ginkgo tree is a unique and fascinating tree. The species has been around since the time of the dinosaurs, so it is truly a living fossil. Ginkgo trees keep their leaves longer than most, but at some point (usually in November) the entire tree will turn a rich golden yellow practically overnight, and all its leaves will drop within a day or two in a beautiful golden shower. It is valued as a street tree and for home yards because it is long-lived, tolerant of harsh conditions, and it has a beautiful form.
In addition to being known for their fall color and easy maintenance, Ginkgo trees can also be easily identified for their unique leaf shape... and the smell of the female trees. The leaves have a fascinating fan shape, sometimes with a split down the middle. The veins also follows this fan pattern with a hair-like texture, giving the tree its other common name: Maidenhair Tree. These trees are dioecious, which means that there are male and female trees instead of both male and female floral structures being present on the same plant (hollies are another example of dioecious plants). The female trees produce large numbers of stinky fruit, and the smell can be overpowering at some times of year. Fortunately, you can now select only male trees for planting in the landscape so you can enjoy all the positive attributes of the tree without this serious drawback. If you can get past the smelly outer coat of the female fruits, the seeds inside are edible and are used in dishes in some Asian countries.
Common Name: Ginkgo or Maidenhair Tree
Scientific Name: Ginkgo biloba
Notable Varieties: 'Autumn Gold' (broad, symmetrical shape), 'Princeton Sentry' (narrow, columnar form)
Light: full sun to part shade
Size: 50-75' tall, 50-60' wide
Soil: tolerates a wide variety of soils, as long as it is not waterlogged
Blooms: inconspicuous in spring
Other Notes: be sure to get a male variety to avoid smelly fruits; valued as a hardy street tree; very long-lived with few pest problems