Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ancient Ginko Biloba Trees and the Nuclear Bomb

By: Lucy Evans

There are very few examples in the world of what scientists refer to as living fossils, i.e. animals and plants living today that are largely unchanged from fossilised remains. Of course the best known example of these are crocodiles and alligators which scientists believe have roamed the earth for over 200 million years. Older still is the Ginko Biloba tree estimated to be 270 million years old. It`s not just its age that makes this tree remarkable, it`s that despite its undoubted success as a species it may not have existed for thousands of years without human help.

The Ginko Biloba was thought by European scientists to be extinct, and like the rest of the Ginko family was only known from fossil records. All this changed when German scientist and explorer Engelbert Kaempfer travelled to Japan in 1691. In Kaempfers expedition through Japan he often stayed in the houses of nobles and a number of Buddhist monasteries. A common site in the gardens of these houses and monasteries were Ginko Biloba trees, which were much prized for their medicinal and culinary properties. On his return to Europe in 1693 Kaempfer donated some Ginko Biloba seeds to the botanical gardens in Utrecht. The Ginko Biloba trees in Utrecht have been used to spawn collections of Ginko trees in botanical gardens all over Europe and the US.

Ginko Biloba trees are very disease resistant and it is claimed that some individual trees may be more than 2,500 years old. Despite their toughness the Ginko Biloba tree is for the most part unknown in the wild, indeed in the Zhejiang province of China where the tree has been seen in the wild, it is now thought due to the limited genetic diversity in the population that they were planted.

The Ginko Biloba is a tough tree and you can`t really imagine how a tree so strong has to rely on human intervention to make it a success. Even more-so if you consider the fact that there are four Ginko Biloba trees in Hiroshima that survived the atomic bomb blast despite being only two kilometres away from the explosion area.

One of the main factors that has allowed the Ginko Biloba tree to thrive is that it is used widely in traditional oriental medicines. The future also looks promisingfor the Ginko Biloba tree as there are now claims that it helps with the central nervous system, with research being undertaken to asses its usefulness for Alzheimer`s sufferers.

In the modern world you will find it hard to come across examples of living fossils. Living fossil is a term used by scientists which means living animals and plants that are largely unaltered from the fossilised remains of their predecessors.

Lucy is a freelance writer working on behalf of Goldshield Vitamins.

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