For many years, it was believed that this unique species of the ginkgo biloba tree was lost in the wild. Today, this tree is the only living member of the order 'ginkgoales', which belong to the 'ginkgoaceae' family. The leaf fossil of this unique plant dates back 270 million years, which is actually in the time of dinosaurs! Study of its fossil shows that in the Jurassic times, it was densely growing in North America, Asia, and Europe. But due to cataclysmic changes, Ginkgo was almost swept out and is now known to be existing in the small areas of Eastern China. Ginkgo trees mainly grow near river beds in the light soils. However, over the years, people have cultivated the trees in many different conditions.
In 1691, Engelbert Kaempfer found ginkgo growing in Japan, which had its origin in China. A recent study indicates that the Chinese monks in this area have preserved these trees for more than 1000 years. These Buddhist monks preserved the trees for their good qualities. Ginkgo biloba is the oldest living seed plant and has thus made a place for itself in the history. It has also greatly affected the history and beliefs of the Chinese people.
The scientists believed that it was because of slow reproduction that the tree has out lived other species. The trees that are 2500-3000 years old have been found in the Chinese regions. Ginkgo has been a medicinal herb and a culinary delight for the Chinese people since a long time. While the roots and the leaves of this tree gave a relief to many, the nuts and the seeds made their way into Chinese dishes. Gingko, in the Chinese medicinal history, served as memory booster. The extract obtained from its roots and leaves improved the blood circulation. Traditional medical practitioners know the fact that Ginkgo can cure impotency. The modern-day practitioners are working on devising a cure for dementia and Alzheimer's out of Ginkgo's parts.
Gingko has been mentioned in the 11th century Chinese literature, in a poem written by Ouyang Xiu. A mention of ginkgo has also been made by the Sung dynasty. The fact that many poets and noble men have noted the ginkgo biloba tree is a testimonial to its countless qualities and its use since ancient times.
The ginkgo plantations were bombed during the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima on 6th August, 1945. When the same trees were examined in September 1945, it was found that the trees had survived the brutality without much damage. A Ginkgo tree located 1.1km away from the epicenter, next to the temple, had begun to bud despite the blast. The temple however, was completely destroyed and had to be rebuilt in 1994; when it was decided to leave the tree there and build the temple around it. As the tree survived through the most non-conducive conditions, it became a 'bearer of hope' for the people.
Ginkgo biloba testifies Darwin's theory of 'survival of the fittest'. Its history of longest survival has made the tree a symbol of longevity amongst people. Apart from being an icon as the toughest species, the tree has also enamored many gardeners and painters with its beauty.