There’s been a lot of conversation recently about the most resilient trees to plant in the North to endure climate change. One that is always on the list is the Ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba ), which is a tough urban tree that can handle salt, has the right height and shape to be a boulevard tree and offers stunning fall color and an unusual leaf shape. They also have basically no pests or diseases. The only concern about ginkgos is that they are nonnative trees, and consequently offer very little for our native pollinators.
A Living Fossil
Ginkgos have been called living fossils because the genus has been around more than 200 million years. It is the only living species in the Ginkgophyta family. As a street tree, this fossil rocks. It grows slowly to a mature height of 50 to 80 feet with lovely spreading branches. The leaves are fan-shaped and a soft green color through spring and summer. In fall, they turn a bright yellow-orange, and often fall all at once, creating a carpet on the grass. Interestingly, they do not turn color every year, which has to do with the weather and how quickly summer turns to near winter.
Most ginkgos you will find in nurseries and garden centers are male trees. The female ginkgo tree produces a seed that has a soft covering that rots as the summer and fall progress. The odor from the rotting seed flesh is pretty strong and not pleasant. It isn’t fool-proof when nurseries identify male vs. female trees so sometimes people will get a female when they think they bought a male.
The species ginkgo grows very well in the North, but plant breeders have come up with a number of cultivars of ginkgo with special characteristics. For instance, Princeton Sentry™ is a narrow ginkgo, growing 40 feet tall and only 15 feet wide. Autumn Gold is hardy to USDA Zone 3 and has a broader appearance and symmetrical branching, as well as a golden fall color. Magyar ginkgo is a faster growing cultivar with a uniform shape.
For a tough street tree, ginkgo is definitely worth considering.