The Ginkgo tree, also known as the maidenhair tree, is the oldest-existing tree species in the world. Its fan-shaped leaves are found in fossil records that go back 225 million years, which means its history dates back to the time of the dinosaurs.
There were as many as 20 varieties of ginkgo present at one time, and different varieties of the tree existed during the Triassic and Mesozoic eras. Dr. Kim D. Coder at the School of Forest Resources at University of Georgia says the global changes that destroyed the dinosaurs also wiped all but one species of ginkgo, which is the one that we see today.
Female trees are similar in appearance to male trees, but they bear a fruit that produces a foul odor. Despite the smell, the fruit is edible and it is eaten in China and Japan. Some ginkgo cultivars, like Autumn Gold, are exclusively male, which makes them safer to plant than other varieties where the sex of the tree cannot be determined until it starts to fruit at around 20 years old.
Not only does ginkgo live a long time, with specimens ranging from 600 to 1,000 years in Japan, but it also can help people live better. According to the University of California Health System, extracts taken from ginkgo leaves have been used to treat dementia and memory loss. It has also been used to treat other ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and fatigue.