The Golden Trees of Fall

Brighten up autumn skies with the sunny leaves of ginkgoes.

Ginko Grove Boyce Virginia
Ginkgo grove at Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce, Virginia, open to the public from dawn to dusk every day. Photo: Roger Foley

One of the oldest tree species on the planet is the ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). This deciduous tree is called the maidenhair tree, a conifer living fossil. Though these trees once grew wild in North America, they are now native only to a few parts of China. Buddhists beautified their temple gardens for centuries with ginkgoes, some of which are over a thousand years old. Admired worldwide, individuals plant these slow-growing trees to showcase their fan-shaped leaves that turn bright yellow in the fall.

The Ginkgo Grove

What began in 1929 as a scientific experiment became something breathtaking. Dr. Orland E. White, the first director of the Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce, Virginia, wanted to sprout seeds from a single tree, knowing ginkgoes can be either male or female. He theorized a single tree's sprout seeds would have a one-to-one ratio of male-to-female saplings.

Dr. Orland E. White and his students used seeds from a ginkgo tree on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville to germinate and plant more than 600 saplings at the Blandy site. Dr. White was right, and now 300 trees remain—America's most extensive planting of ginkgoes for research.

Plant a Tree

Ginkgoes are versatile and resilient. They are street trees that can train to be bonsai.

Female trees have foul-smelling, fleshy seeds, so choose male selections. For a significant impact, try 'Autumn Gold' (30 to 50 feet tall and wide). For tight spaces, plant the more columnar 'Gold Spire' (15 feet tall and five feet wide) or the V-shaped 'Jade Butterflies' (12 feet tall and 10 feet wide). In pots, try the dwarf 'Troll' (three feet tall and wide).

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