Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
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Ripe Ginkgo fruit on tree about to fall. Color of leaves when fruit is ripe can range from half green & half yellow to fully yellow. (By: Famartin Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)
Urban, Rural or Both: Urban Mainly
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). Also know as the Maidenhair Tree. Most people in North America have no idea that the Ginkgo tree makes edible nuts, as most Ginkgo trees in North America are clones of male Ginkgo trees. In Asia the female trees are grown to produce the Ginkgo nut food crop. The orange outer pulp of the Ginkgo nut is messy and strongly smells like feta cheese going off from the Butyric acid content, so most people don't want the female trees as an ornamental. Under the female tree can be quite a mess at harvest time. However the nut, if you can find them here, are worth the effort. I know of two female trees, and yet in the area I live, I see hundreds of the male trees planted in yards. By the way, it is a deciduous conifer - it is cone bearing in the males, and is a deciduous tree.
A warning, only gather, husk and wash the nut with gloves, as the gooey orange flesh can irritate the skin. Wash off the remaining orange goo after removing the nut from the fleshy outer husk, and dry the nuts.
They shell easily, and are good a few at a time in cooked foods. Too many can cause a type of mild poisoning - especially children, so I recommend only up to five cooked into a meal, and only for adults. Otherwise, they are considered very healthy. Make sure you are not allergic by trying only a small amount at first, and never overdo it with any food. Only eat these cooked - never raw.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
A very popular ornamental, but only the males. If you want to have the trees to produce the nuts, don't buy a Ginkgo from a nursery - they are always male clones. You could call a nursery and see if they carry female clones, but I doubt they would. There is no way to tell if the tree is male or female until it is mature enough to start flowering and producing the fruit. The only way to get them yourself is to find some nuts and plant a few. If you only plant one, you might get a male, you might get a female. If you plant a few, you should get both - which you will need if you want the females to produce fruit. A very nice tree that can grow in a wide variety of conditions.
For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Ginkgo page.
- Plant Size: Up to 35 meters (115 feet) tall, and on occasion much larger
- Duration: Very long lived, some are thought to be over 2000 years old.
- Leaf Shape: Simple, fan shaped, often with a single split in the center of the other end from the stem given a cloven hoof shape. Sometimes more than one split, sometimes the fan shape is very triangular with the end away from the stem fairly flat, sometimes very rounded.
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: Alternate clusters of leaves, or Alternate single leaves
- Leaf Size: Up to 7.5 cm (3 inches) long with a stem that is also up to 7 cm (3 inches) long.
- Leaf Margin: Sides are smooth, but the end away from the stem can be variable forms of bumpy and wavy
- Leaf Notes: Leaves turn a beautiful bright, deep yellow in fall. All leaf veins radiate from the stem and fan out to the leaf end - there is no branching of the leaf veins.
- Flowers: Male trees: small yellow-green pollen cones. Female trees: barely noticeable ovules come out where the clusters of leaves come out, ovules are shorter than the leaves.
- Fruit: Green when unripe, slightly smaller than a ping-pong ball. Yellowish-orange-tangerine when ripe.
- Bark: Grey with vertical fissures
- Habitat: Full sun, well drained, moist soils. In North America almost exclusively found as a planted ornamental, and as such, it is rare to find a female.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) range where it has naturalized. It can be grown in most of Eastern North America. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.
Ginkgo leaves and nuts on tree in fall.
Ginkgo leaves in Summer from a female tree near me in a local park.
Flowers from a female Ginkgo tree. (By: Ginkgob CC BY-SA 3.0)
Flowers from a male Ginkgo tree. (By: Ginkgob CC BY-SA 3.0)
Ginkgo leaves in summer. (By: James Field (Jame) CC BY-SA 3.0)
Fall leaves. (By: Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky CC BY-SA 3.0)
Single Ginkgo fruit that is ripe.
Ginkgo nut after most of the outer pulp was removed, but before being washed. I clean them to this stage under the tree, then take home to wash.
Washed, ready to dry and store or use.
Ginkgo Biloba seeds and coconut flesh in a light syrup served as a dessert in Bangkok, Thailand. (By: David Richfield GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)
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