Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold'
I've recently faced some tough, but pleasant decisions. Given a yard with absolutely nothing in it, what trees should I plant? I made a list of all my favorites, and selected those that best fit my yard of sandy clay soil, blazing sun, and wind. Gingko biloba made the final cut, and a fine specimen of the 'Autumn Gold' cultivar is happily adjusting to my yard.
The Ginkgo biloba, or gingko, is the oldest living species of tree. The fossil record shows they were around at the time of dinosaurs, at least 270 million years ago. Gingkos were largely wiped out by the ice ages, except for a few regions of China. Thanks to some Buddist monks, ginkgos were propagated and grown by monasteries for centuries. Without the monks' efforts, scientists hypothesize that gingkos would have become extinct.
Despite its brush with extinction, gingkos are very resilient trees, and are a great choice for urban environments. Gingkos have little, if any problems with insects and disease. They tolerate drought and heat well, which is a particularly great trait this summer! They prefer well-drained soil, but can adapt to less than ideal soil quite readily. Gingkos grow fairly slowly to a mature height of 50 to 80 feet.
Gingkos are dioecious plant species, which means that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. It may be tempting to purchase trees grown by seed to save money, but if that tree turns out to be female, you'll regret it (so will your neighbors!) The female gingko bears fruit that has been described as having a "disagreeable" odor, much like rancid butter or vomit. Despite the fruit's aroma, many Asian cultures value the seed inside the odiferous fruit for traditional medicines.
Nurseries do offer guaranteed male gingkos, and 'Autumn Gold' is one of them. Guaranteed males are propagated by cuttings or grafting. 'Autumn Gold' gets its name from its brilliant yellow fall color.