The Ginkgo Avenue in Tokyo
- 6 months ago
Ginkgo biloba, also known as the maidenhair tree, is widely cultivated in many urban areas around the world as an ornamental and shade tree. Ginkgos are well suited to the urban environment because of their unique ability to tolerate pollution, thrive in confined spaces and generally be resistant to diseases and insects. Examples of the ginkgo's tenacity may be seen in Hiroshima, Japan, where several gingko trees growing dangerously close to the 1945 atom bomb explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast.
In Japan, where it’s known as “icho”, the tree is found all over the country — in temples, in urban parks, and along city streets. It’s the official tree of Tokyo, and the ginkgo leaf is the symbol of Tokyo. Among the many ginkgo lined streets in Tokyo, the Icho Namiki or Ginkgo Avenue located in Meiji-jingu Gaien Park, is the most popular.
Icho Namiki is a 300-meter-long street lined with two rows of gingko trees on either side that are kept immaculately trimmed until autumn, around November, when all the leaves turn brilliant yellow. The leaves fall shortly after, blanketing the streets and sidewalks. Crowds of people come to view the spectacle, stroll under the leaves or relax at one of the sidewalk cafes along the street.
Ginkgo biloba and other species of the genus was once widespread throughout the world, until its population shrank about two million years ago. Today, ginkgo biloba is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta. All others went extinct. The species is now restricted to a small region in Zhejiang province in eastern China where it grows in the wild.
The gingko has been cultivated by the Chinese for a long time, with many trees over 1,500 years old. The tree was first discovered by Europeans in late 17th century when a German botanist saw them in Japanese temple gardens. They are now common in Europe, and also in North America where they have been cultivated for over 200 years.