A photographer’s passion for a living fossil: Ginkgo The Living Fossil


Ginkgo The Living Fossil

Jimmy Shen, a professional botanic photographer based in east China, recently reached out to us to share information on his intensive research on Ginkgos. Over the past few decades, Jimmy explored the beauty of wild and native Ginkgos, capturing them through his lenses and now in his picture book to share with the world.

Reflecting Jimmy’s spiritual realm and artistic pursuit, Ginkgo The Living Fossil leads readers into a wonderland of Ginkgos. In a comment by Quentin Wheeler, President, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, The Ohio State University, U.S.A. describes the publication as “a sensitive blend of the sciences, humanities, and arts”, he points out that it is impossible to pigeonhole this book into any one category. A most remarkable tree is brought to life through spectacular photos and engaging text. At a time of so much biodiversity loss, he wishes every species could have a Jimmy Shen, someone to tell its story with admiring words and inspiring images. He has always been fascinated by the Ginkgo. He now has many more reasons to be. Jimmy’s own description of the purpose of his book is to promote public awareness towards Ginkgo, connect Ginkgo enthusiasts from around the world, and unite and invite groups to preserve ancient Ginkgo forests for biodiversity consolidation.

For more information on Jimmy’s work, click here. You can also download over 100 pages of Ginkgo The Living Fossil for free, order your very own copy, and participate in Jimmy’s efforts to publish hardcopies of his pictorial book. Here, we include a text from the book Ginkgo The Living Fossil, describing history, features and uses of the Ginkgo, and more!


About Ginkgo

As a living fossil, Ginkgo, also called the Maidenhair Tree, has always been a hot spot topic alongside the development of natural history. More and more of its secrets have been revealed by generations of scientists.

In 1989, at Yi Ma Formation of Henan Province, China, a team of paleontologists led by Zhiyan Zhou and Bole Zhang unearthed some Ginkgo fossils, that they later traced back 170 million years–the oldest Ginkgo fossils found to date. Along with other fossil discoveries in Europe and North America, it is evident that Ginkgos once flourished on our planet at ancient times.

Most forms of animals and plants disappeared after the mass extinction 65 million years ago. What was worse, the Quaternary glaciers swept across the planet 2 million years ago, as a result, only a few plants including one species of Ginkgo tree survived the catastrophe. Ginkgos took shelter in mountain ranges in China. Today these existing Ginkgo biloba trees represent the only genus of the family Ginkgoaceae of the order Ginkgoales of gymnosperms.

The special smell of ripe seeds attracts animals including the Masked Palm Civet Paguma larvata (also known as the Himalayan Palm Civet and the Gem-faced Civet), which eat them and disperse the hard-shelled nuts within their droppings. As such, Ginkgos spread easily in the wild. Ancient Chinese found Ginkgo nuts tasty and transplanted the tree nationwide. Sometimes Ginkgo seedlings could be found among dowries of the brides.

Because of their straight trunks and extraordinary shapes, Ginkgo trees were often planted in front of temples, lending an atmosphere of awe and solemnity. Old Buddhist monks liked to use walking sticks made of Ginkgo stems or small branches, when they traveled as missionaries and they stuck their sticks into the soil inside the temple, where new trees would grow from these sticks. By this method Ginkgos spread to the Korean peninsula and Japan about 1,500 years ago. One century later, Ginkgo nuts were carried from Japan to Holland, and the first Ginkgo tree in Europe grew. From Holland, Ginkgo was transplanted to other European countries and the U.S.A.

Male and female Ginkgos are separate trees. In spring, pollen cones grow on male trees while ovules develop on females. Carried by wind, pollen travels miles across hills and rivers, meanwhile the ovule sends out a drop of liquid on the top to catch pollen passing by. After the meeting, the drop retreats and leads the way for pollen to settle down in the growing pollen tube, where sperm develop. Later in autumn matured sperm leave the tube and swim to the egg, which then develops in the ovule, making the actual fertilization to produce an embryo. The embryo continues to grow for two months even after ripe seeds are picked.

Each part of the tree is of economic value. The wood is ideal for carving. Besides the nutrition in the nuts, its outer flesh can be used as a kind of insecticide. Since scientists found that Ginkgo leaf extracts could improve blood circulation, mid last century, they have been widely used as nutritional supplements, medicines, and more recently cosmetics and drinks.

Due to its tolerance to environmental conditions, the Ginkgo has been popular as a street tree, in order to reduce urban heat-island effect. There comes a new drive to plant Ginkgo trees, ensuring that Ginkgos will continue to thrive around the world.