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the web of life in southern Africa

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree)

Bai Guo [Chinese]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Gymnospermae > Ginkgophyta

Ginkgo biloba in the Company Gardens, Cape Town. [photo H. Robertson, Iziko ]

The only surviving species of the ancient plant group Ginkophyta. Ginkgo biloba is native to China but it is uncertain whether there are any surviving natural populations. It has survived through cultivation in temple gardens and is now grown worldwide in parks and gardens. Fossils from 200 million years ago appear identical to this modern day representative. 

Medicinal uses

A great deal of research has been done on the medicinal benefits of Ginkgo and it has been used in traditional Chinese medicines for a long time. A few interesting facts about its medicinal applications are presented here. Extracts of leaves are used medicinally to improve blood circulation in the brain, evidently aiding memory and concentration, and reducing the chances of a stroke. A substance in the leaves evidently inhibits Platelet Activating Factor, thus making the blood less sticky and less likely to produce clots (a stroke is caused by a clot in the brain preventing oxygenated blood from reaching brain tissue). Taking these extracts is also considered to reduce senile dementia. In Chinese medicine, the seeds are prescribed for urinary problems and to lessen phlegm and reduce wheezing. 

Text by Hamish Robertson