Ginkgo Trees

Ginkgo Trees, Ginkgo biloba, also known as Maidenhair Trees, are a staple in any Asian or zen garden and landscape. Although very slow growing, they mature into large shade trees. You may be familiar with Ginkgo trees because of their fan-shape leaves that turn a vibrant yellow in fall as the tree swiftly defoliates or from the common misconception about their smell. We're discussing the overall family characteristics, including some of the similarities and difference between the cultivars available, like Magyar Ginkgo, Autumn Gold™ Ginkgo, and Princeton Sentry® Ginkgo.

Family History

The genus name of Ginkgo is a missed translation of the Japanese gin meaning "silver" and kyo meaning "apricot", dating back to the 17th century. A long-time symbol of longevity, the Ginkgo’s history is an astonishing one.

Ginkgo trees are known as a living fossil, with leaf impressions dating back 270 million years!! It is also a readily available medicine throughout the world. It is often claimed that many species are resilient, but how many can say their species has survived the Atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima? Roughly 170 Ginkgo biloba survived the blast in 1945. Read the story here. Talk about a living legend! A true symbol of longevity, this tree will most likely outlive generations to come. These trees can live for over 1,000 years, and when given the proper planting care you should expect yours to do the same. Ginkgo biloba is dioecious, which means it has individual female and male plants. This characteristic may be its success to outliving extinction. Learn more about Plant Sex.

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Ginkgo Wildlife Value

Ginkgo trees are not Wisconsin native or regional native to the Midwest. Ginkgo’s have developed many effective defense mechanisms after surviving millions of years of predatory and environmental stressors. For example, the leaves produce an aldehyde which quickly repels insects when fed upon and can kill such insects and their larvae. Though some have evolved to tolerate these effects, Ginkgo is not their preferred food source. Male cultivars are typically available in the marketplace and are seedless; therefore, they do not produce seed like their female counterparts. Aside from benefits such as leaf food and branches used for nesting materials, they provide little value to wildlife or nature's food web.

Suggested Uses For Ginkgo

Ginkgo trees have a wide range of usage. Since they're very hardy: tolerant of a wide range of soils, salt tolerant, and deer resistant, they may be used for commercial and residential landscapes, specimen gardens, as street trees, or in urban settings. Factors for consideration in planting and siting Maidenhair trees are light availability and space for their mature size. You'll see below that one of the cultivars is more columnar; therefore, it's suitable for sites with less space, but the other two may mature to 20-30 foot spreads. As with all Ginkgo trees, they require full sun, but can tolerate partial shade.

princeton sentry ginkgo biloba fan leaf green foliage asian garden landscape
ginkgo biloba tree female seed fruit smelly bad smell

Fruits/Seeds of female ginkgo, not present on male cultivars.

Do They Smell?

We mentioned the male/female relationship with seeds briefly above: "Male cultivars are typically available in the marketplace and are seedless" Females produce a fruit which is known to bring an unpleasant smell with it, making it the industry standard to sell only male cultivars. The fleshy seed coat contains acids that can cause skin irritation and gives the fruit its malodorous properties. Sexual maturity of Ginkgo trees occurs between 20 and 40 years old, making it difficult to sell a young, straight species Ginkgo before knowing if it is male or female.

It is to be noted that while rare, sex conversion can occur on some branches of sexually mature plants. Male cultivars are typically grafted onto a rootstock, and records of sex conversion are few and far between.

Dramatic Fall Defoliation

In fall, you may notice your Ginkgo’s leaves drop dramatically, all at once. Why is this? As colder weather comes, common deciduous trees like maples often lose their leaves over the course of a few weeks.

The process of a tree losing its leaves it a little more complex than you may think, the stems of leaves on these trees are called petioles. Petioles produce a layer of protective cells to protect trees from diseases that could enter as the leaves drop. This process typically takes place over a period of several weeks as temperature decreases. On a Ginkgo tree, the petioles form this layer of scar-like cells simultaneously and once a hard frost comes it triggers all leaves to drop at once, creating a lovely golden carpet around the base of your tree.

Often, a true sign that fall has arrived.

ginkgo biloba tree dramatic yellow fall foliage drop


As they are pretty much the same tree across the board, the differences are their mature spreads (widths). If you're unfamiliar with cultivars, watch our video Cultivar - What is it?

  • All 3 will mature to 40-50ft tall.
  • Princeton Sentry® Ginkgo matures to 15-20ft wide.
  • Magyar Ginkgo matures to 20-25ft wide.
  • Autumn Gold™ Ginkgo matures to 25-30ft wide.