Ginkgo — The Ginkgo, frequently misspelled as “Gingko”, and also known as the Maidenhair Tree after Adiantum, is a unique tree with no close living relatives. The ginkgo is classified in its own division, the Ginkgophyta, comprising the single class Ginkgoopsida, order Ginkgoales, family Ginkgoaceae, genus Ginkgo and is the only extant species within this group. It is one of the best known examples of a living fossil, because Ginkgoales are not known from the fossil record after the Pliocene.
For centuries it was thought to be extinct in the wild, but is now known to grow in at least two small areas in Zhejiang province in Eastern China, in the Tian Mu Shan Reserve. However, recent studies indicate high genetic uniformity among ginkgo trees from these areas, arguing against a natural origin of these populations. Therefore, it has been suggested that the ginkgo trees in these areas appear to have been planted and preserved by Chinese monks over a period of about 1000 years. Whether native ginkgo populations still exist has not been demonstrated unequivocally and is therefore uncertain.
The relationship of Ginkgo to other plant groups remains uncertain. It has been placed loosely in the divisions Spermatophyta and Pinophyta, but no consensus has been reached. Since Ginkgo seeds are not protected by an ovary wall, it can morphologically be considered a gymnosperm. The apricot-like structures produced by female ginkgo trees are technically not fruits, but are the seeds having a shell that consists of a soft and fleshy section (the sarcotesta), and a hard section (the sclerotesta).
Ginkgos are very large trees, normally reaching a height of 20–35 m (66-115 feet), with some specimens in China being over 50 m (164 feet). The tree has an angular crown and long, somewhat erratic branches, and is usually deep rooted and resistant to wind and snow damage. Young trees are often tall and slender, and sparsely branched; the crown becomes broader as the tree ages. During autumn, the leaves turn a bright yellow, then fall, sometimes within a short space of time (1–15 days). A combination of resistance to disease, insect-resistant wood and the ability to form aerial roots and sprouts makes ginkgos very long-lived, with some specimens claimed to be more than 2,500 years old: A 3,000 year-old ginkgo has been reported in Shandong province in China.