gingko1Photo Credit: Joe Katrencik


Gingko Facts

Common Name

Ginkgo or Maidenhair tree

The plant was originally called ya-ghiao meaning “duck’s foot” because the shape of the leaf resembled a webbed foot, but was later changed to ginkyo meaning “silver apricot”, which describes the fruit on the tree. The ginkgo attained its current spelling when German naturalist and physician, Engelbert Kaempfer, furnished a botanical description of the ginkgo and the publisher confused the “y” with a “g” leading to the spelling we see today.

Scientific Name

Ginkgo biloba




The ginkgo thrives in moist soils, but is very adaptable. It likes full to partial sun and is tolerant to a wide range of soil conditions, air pollution and heat.


The ginkgo is used as a lawn tree, shade tree, or street tree. It has become the urban sidewalk’s defense against pollution, heat, cold, disease and insects. Due to its column like growth trajectory and moderately high branches the tree does not create a nuisance to street managers as its roots do not overtake the sidewalk and it also is not an issue for pedestrians as they can easily pass underneath.


A long living tree that can grow anywhere from 50 to 80 feet tall with a spread of 30 to 40 feet.


A deciduous tree with leaves of medium green color in the spring and summer, and usually chartreuse, but sometimes a golden-yellow during good years in the fall. Leaves are fan shaped.

Leaf Color Range



Female trees produce seeds, which are encased in fleshy fruit like coverings. In autumn when the fruit falls to the ground and is smashed, a noxious smell emanates from the cracked seed.


Both male and female trees have flowers that bloom in early spring. The bloom color is green. While the male flowers are in a greenish catkin, the female flowers are less easily distinguished.

About the Ginkgo Tree

While the ginkgo tree may have a smelly reputation, its story is quite remarkable. The ginkgo has been called the “father of all trees” and “a living fossil”. Today the ginkgo thrives, virtually unchanged since its origins more than 300 million years ago. For centuries this species was thought to be extinct, until two small populations were found in southeast China. Not only has it survived an ice age, but it also has survived modern threats, most notably the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during WWII. After the 1945 bombing that killed thousands and destroyed the built and natural environment, a seeming miracle occurred in the spring of 1946. The Hosenbou Temple lay in ruins meters beyond the epicenter of the bombing, yet a ginkgo tree managed to sprout from beneath the destruction. The ginkgo has long been a cherished symbol of East Asian culture; this story highlights its significance as a symbol of life and renewal.

Ginkgo trees can be found scattered throughout Allegheny Commons. This was a popular tree to plant beginning in the late 19th century. During Pittsburgh’s sooty industrial days, its tolerance of harsh conditions and its ability to thrive in disturbed environments assured its popularity.

Ginkgo Nuts


Learn More

For more information about this tree as well as the other species located in Allegheny Commons visit the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Allegheny branch for these recommended resources:

The Ginkgo and the Moon
Lisa Mertins

A ginkgo tree tries to attract the moon’s attention, but the moon is too busy chasing after the sun to notice the humble ginkgo.

Ginkgo and the Moon

Did you know that parts of the ginkgo tree are edible? The ginkgo fruit is highly regarded as a Chinese delicacy, but if eaten raw can be toxic. When the fruit is dried out and cooked the toxic qualities are diminished and are often used in Asian soups and congees. The ginkgo fruit is also used as a health supplement for treating colds and the leaves may provide further medicinal benefits through helping to enhance memory, though research has shown mixed results. The dried leaves are often used to make herbal tea.

If you’re thinking about collecting the fruit yourself here is a note of caution: ginkgo fruit contains urushiol, which is the same chemical that causes allergic reactions to poison oak, ivy and sumac. Make sure to wear gloves and protect your skin when handling the fruit!

Be daring and try out these unique recipes that use ginkgo nuts as one of the main ingredients.

It’s advised to wear gloves while collecting and preparing the ginkgo fruit.

Dried Bean Curd and Ginkgo Nut Dessert

This popular Chinese dessert can be served hot or cold, suitable for all seasons. Serves 3

• 20 to 25 ginkgo nuts, shells removed, available at Asian stores
• 1 to 2 pieces dried bean curd sheets, available at Asian stores
• 50 gm barley, or to preference
• 3 eggs, optional
• 1500 ml boiling water
• sugar, to taste

1. Rinse the barley and the ginkgo nuts. Soak barley in water for about 30 minutes. Rinse dried bean curd. In a separate bowl, soak dried bean curd until softened.

2. Put the barley and the ginkgo nuts into boiling water. Cook over medium heat, covered, about 30 minutes, or until all ingredients are softened.

3. Add the softened bean curd. Continue to cook until it breaks into pieces, or cook until it turns into soy-milk-like texture. (Note: After adding bean curd, it easily spills over the stove. Be careful.) The cooking time depends on how you like it. Add sugar and cook until completely dissolves. When the dessert is almost done, you can add eggs and cook to your preferred texture. A suggestion would be to break the eggs and add into the dessert, immediately turn off the heat and let the mixture heat in the pot continuing to cook for about 5 minutes.
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Roasted Ginkgo Nuts

After collecting the ginkgo nuts, discard the smelly, fleshy outer layer. Thoroughly wash the nuts in cold water, dry completely, place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in a 300° oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and, while still hot, gently tap each with a hammer or the bottom of a heavy skillet. The thin shell will crack, revealing the sweet green nut inside. Use roasted ginkgo nuts as you would toasted almonds or peanuts—in salads, pilafs, or finely ground for use in pie pastry or in traditional Chinese egg custard.
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1) Become a Tree Tender

We need you to become a Tree Tender! Join nearly 1200 Pittsburghers, greening the city one tree at a time! For more information contact Tree Pittsburgh.

2) Tree Care Days

Keep your eyes open for tree care days in the park! There is a Mulch Madness event twice a year hosted by Tree Pittsburgh in which nearly 400 trees are mulched. Also various pruning workshops are held throughout the year to teach proper pruning techniques.

3) Adopt a Tree

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