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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nov 29 Ethnoecology Blogs - Fall 2012: Gingko Biloba Moderator’s Note: It is my privilege this time of the year to present the work of my undergraduate students at the University of Washington. This year I am presenting a series of outstanding blogs by students enrolled in my course on Environmental Anthropology. The large lecture format course introduces students to the field of environmental anthropology, which includes the study of Ethnoecology – the knowledge of ecology developed by indigenous and other traditional place-based peoples. The course also examines contributions from the fields of critical political ecology, which focuses on the role of science in the politics of environmental law, policy, and social movements. Finally, we study aspects of environmental history, which focuses on the role of human societies – both small- and large-scale – in processes of ecological change and includes analysis of the history of ideas about the quality of the human-environment relationship. Like the class, these blogs seek to bridge all these approaches and more by providing entries that address local place-based knowledge and situate Ethnoecology within the context of politics and history. I am very proud of the work done by the students this year because they have demonstrated that the youth of the current ‘Millennial’ generation is as serious-minded and dedicated to creative and critical thought as any that preceded them. The students illustrate the value of collective work and the possibilities that unfold with collaborative group projects as part of a critical pedagogy that challenges the hyper-individualism of our mass society. It is refreshing to see these young minds create an intellectual community and contribute to the diffusion of the people’s knowledge of ecology. I also acknowledge the incredible contributions by my two graduate assistants, Claudia Serrato and Gabe Valle. They supervised the entire process of research, preparation, and editing of these blog entries. The results of their professional guidance and dedicated support of my students are superb. I am blessed to have such high quality graduate students in my midst. I am also grateful to Erik Jaccard, who serves as our English-writing instructor, and was masterful and skilled in preparing these entries for publication. The second entry in this series is about a tree, the Gingko Biloba, which is an organism that has survived on and adapted to changes in our planet for hundreds of millions of years. The students write about the “deep history” of the relationship between human and this tree, and about the traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) resulting from this ecological intimacy. Reading this entry, you will learn that Buddhist and Taoist monks venerate the Gingko for its long lifespan (approximately 2 to 4 thousand years), representing a strong, holy, and enduring life. The tree is a source of food and medicine and is also appreciated for spiritual and aesthetic values. The entry also explores the contemporary political ecology of the tree and the decline of biodiversity of the Gingko in part promoted by the nature of efforts to exploit it commercially in plantation monoculture tree farms and even conservation programs. The students conclude by noting how the “Biloba has affected human civilization for thousands of years, providing medicine and food, as well as symbolism in art, and will continue to do so as we learn more uses for it and come to understand its true value.” Ginkgo Biloba A TREE OF LIFE AND THE POLITICS OF ITS SURVIVAL


This is such beautiful, powerful, in fact, mind-blowing work conducted by Dr. Devon Peña's students.  This is a very well written and conceived, and very touching piece, as well: 
"It is estimated that there are over 300 pharmaceutical and clinical studies in Europe have researched or are researching the medicinal uses of Ginkgo leaf extract EGb 761. This extract is already being used, mostly in the form of herbal pills, to treat cardiovascular conditions, lung complications, and cognitive or memory disorders. It is used in these ways due to its anti-inflammatory properties, first discovered in ancient China. In the United States, the University of Maryland Medical Center has been conducting studies on the clinical effects Ginkgo can have on conditions such as depression, ADD and ADHD, chronic migraines, and vertigo as well. While the historical medicinal uses are vast, modern medical science is discovering more uses of this versatile plant every year.
Since the only native Ginkgo trees that survived the extinction were confined to what is now China, when people arrived in Southeast Asia, they grew to appreciate and cultivate the plant.  “[The] Ginkgo Biloba has been cultivated for more than 2000 years in China and for some 1000 years in Japan as a source of food, shade, and beauty” (Royerac).  

In Buddhist and Taoist monasteries, they kept trees alive because they were venerated as old creatures as the “the Ginkgo biloba tree has a life span of 2,000-4000 years” (Z. Pang).  Use became more widespread and written records show that it was used as a food source since at least 206 BCE and the Chinese soon came to honor and be proud of the tree. ‘

Yes, we need to save this tree because it is very valuable, life-extending, and beautiful and there is still much to discover about it's healing properties.  Moreover, our early ancestors recognized its sacred, medicinal, and practical properties.  Thanks so much for sharing, Devon.  I hope this piece gets the attention it deserves.      

-Angela

 
Trenton Dos Santos-Tam | Siva Hope | Sienna Landry | Alyssa Morant | Stephen Warner

Our objective is to learn about the native Ginkgo tree from an anthropological perspective and present our findings through the five lenses of classification, ethnobotany, agroecology, environmental history and political ecology with a multimedia and collaborative approach. We choose the Ginkgo because of its prehistoric roots spanning nearly 270 million years as well as a deep history relating to humans. We will see how the traditional environmental knowledge of indigenous people that came into contact with the plant can create a better understanding of our surroundings.

A deep history
Fossilized leaf of an ancient Gingko

In the Jurassic Period, the Ginkgoales thrived with over 20 species.  Existing all over the world, fossil records show that the tree was most diverse in North America, East Asia and Europe, and it was nonexistent in the equatorial regions. Some scientists think that the dinosaurs helped spread its seed and consequently helped it flourish during this time.  Parallel in the geological timeline, as dinosaurs saw their collapse by the Tertiary Period, the Ginkgo Biloba remained the only Ginkgo left.  There were likely other contributing factors to the downfall of the Biloba that occurred over the millions of years, like the great warming period that helped extinguish the dinosaurs, and subsequent ice ages, making it a living fossil. The Ginkgo Biloba is now the only living remnant of this family. The populations of Bilobas that survived were largely all “in the low coastal and interior mountains straddling the Yangtze River” (Royerac).

Since the only native Ginkgo trees that survived the extinction were confined to what is now China, when people arrived in Southeast Asia, they grew to appreciate and cultivate the plant.  “[The] Ginkgo Biloba has been cultivated for more than 2000 years in China and for some 1000 years in Japan as a source of food, shade, and beauty” (Royerac).  
In Buddhist and Taoist monasteries, they kept trees alive because they were venerated as old creatures as the “the Ginkgo biloba tree has a life span of 2,000-4000 years” (Z. Pang).  Use became more widespread and written records show that it was used as a food source since at least 206 BCE and the Chinese soon came to honor and be proud of the tree.  
Human cultivation brought the tree to Japan and Korea around 1192 CE because of Buddhist influences.  The Ginkgo nuts are first mentioned in Japanese textbooks in 1492 for its uses: medicine, food, its history. The Biloba was cultivated in the Southeast region of Asia exclusively until Joseph Kaempfer brought it from Japan to the Botanic Garden of Utrecht, Holland, in 1730, and then, in 1785, William Hamilton brought it to the last major continent in his estate in North America from England.

From the time that the Ginkgo reached the European continent, it was used as an exotic ornamental tree for gardens, yards and public areas alike.  As its presence in the Western world increased, so did its popularity among gardeners and landscapers.  
It is a resilient tree that can thrive in nearly any industrialized nation’s climate “In cultivation Ginkgo tolerates a wide variety of seasonal climates, ranging from Mediterranean to cold temperate” (Royerac).  Further allowing for its strong tenacity, “It has shown a resistance to insects, bacteria, viruses and fungi.”  The great perseverance of the tree can be attributed to these factors and the veneration given to it by humans has partially stemmed from its strength.
Photo credit: Dreamstime
The Ginkgo tree, both its leaves and its seeds, have been used by humans for medicine, food and art for thousands of years.  Historically, we have seen the resilience of the tree through such events as the ice age and even an atomic bomb at Hiroshima, making it a reliable source for use by people.  The first recorded use of the leaves is from China in 1436 externally to treat skin sores and again in 1505 internally to treat diarrhea.  Nearly all of the ethnobotanical uses of this plant originated from China or Japan, but today are common all throughout the world, including most European countries and America

Linnaeus initially described the tree in 1771 and the specific epithet biloba derived from the Latin bis, meaning “two”, and loba, meaning “lobed”. This is seen in the shape of the leaf which is split in the middle, creating two lobes. Botanist Richard Salisbury is recognized for two names of the tree: pterophyllus salisburienus and the earlier salisburia adiantifolia proposed by James Edward Smith which may have been intended to denote a characteristic resembling adiantum, the genus of Maidenhair ferns.

The Ginkgo Biloba is classified in its own taxonomy group because of its rare seed formation. According to Arthur Cronquist, “the whole seed, except the embryo itself, is formed before fertilization, which occurs after the seeds have fallen from the tree” (130). Therefore, the classification is as follows: Kingdom-Plantae, Division-Ginkgophyta, Class-Ginkoopsida, Order-Ginkgoales, Family-Gingoaceae, Genus-Ginkgo.

Another factor that separates the Ginkgo seeds from common tree seeds is the fact that they are not protected by an ovary wall and can morphologically be considered a gymnosperm. Because of this, the Ginkgo has been placed loosely in the divisions Spermatophyta and Pinophyta but no consensus has been reached. This separation has created a great controversy among taxonomists because “…both the morphologic distinctiveness of the Ginkgo phylad and its long and diversified fossil history contribute to the consensus, although the precise rank may still be debated.” (Cronquist 46)
The ethnecology and political ecology of a sacred tree
                         
By the late 1800s to early 1900s, it was a popular “street tree” on the east coast in urban areas. For more than 50 years, horticulturists in parks and public places, commercial landscapes, and street tree plantings have made use of Ginkgo.  In America it’s seen as an ornamental tree and “a number of selections have been released by horticulturists and foresters and a great number of cultivars developed [it] for ornamental purposes have been recorded.”  Consequently, it is considered a tree for collectors. Currently, the IUCN Red List of Endangered Plants has listed the tree as endangered.

It is estimated that there are over 300 pharmaceutical and clinical studies in Europe have researched or are researching the medicinal uses of Ginkgo leaf extract EGb 761. This extract is already being used, mostly in the form of herbal pills, to treat cardiovascular conditions, lung complications, and cognitive or memory disorders. It is used in these ways due to its anti-inflammatory properties, first discovered in ancient China. In the United States, the University of Maryland Medical Center has been conducting studies on the clinical effects Ginkgo can have on conditions such as depression, ADD and ADHD, chronic migraines, and vertigo as well. While the historical medicinal uses are vast, modern medical science is discovering more uses of this versatile plant every year.
Nutritional supplements are an example of the commercialization of the Gingko Biloba
 
The seed of the female Gingko tree, although less common than the male due to the odor it produces, can be used for food products, both ceremonially in indigenous cultures and for proclaimed health benefits predominantly in western society. In Japan, the Ginkgo’s fleshy seed is roasted and eaten at ceremonial banquets and weddings, or it is ground up as a seasoning for stew or soup. It can also be used in Ginkgo tea, which some people claim brings longevity and generally better health. A 1996 sales report shows that Ginkgo-based health food products had sales upward of 270 million dollars in the United States. Humans have recognized the Ginkgo as a valuable provider for thousands of years, and with the continual advancements of our understandings of the tree, humans’ relationship with this plant isn’t likely to cease.
                         
In addition to medicinal and food-based uses for the Ginkgo tree, the plant has also been used as an art motif and as a medium for art historically. In China and Japan especially, the Ginkgo leaf is an esteemed motif used for family crests, kimonos, jewelry and paintings or drawings.  
Source: Washington State Parks
The petrified gingko forest in Vantage, Washington displays the fossilized wood of the tree as a medium for ancient petroglyphs preserved by the visiting center. They also host an indoor exhibit that displays small and medium pieces of petrified Ginkgo wood that resemble images of people, animals or objects as well as historical and regional information about the trees. The continued artistic and cultural use of the Ginkgo tree speaks to how appreciated it is by humans historically and today.
                         
The ethnobotanical uses of the gingko tree, whether it’s as medicine, food or art, all contribute to the preservation and protection of the species as it is currently endangered. As they learn to acknowledge the interest and significance of the oldest living tree, people will work to preserve the rare species. 
Artwork depicting Gingko Biloba
Contemporary ethnobotany & commercialization
Humans today are contributing greatly to the survival and revival of the Ginkgo Biloba simply through appreciating its aesthetic and practical value. In the 1990s, farming of the Ginkgo Biloba began to develop in China through a joint venture program in which thousands of small scale farmers harvest the leaves. There are also Ginkgo Biloba plantations in the United States and France, created by pharmaceutical companies who require large amounts of the leaves for their health food products and medicine. Farming of the Ginkgo Biloba, both small and large scale, has provided one sustainable method by which humans are currently fostering the species. 
In addition to the farming of the tree, it is also being sustained through its increasing popularity in landscaping. Surrounding the Cleveland Indian’s baseball stadium are two hundred and sixty male trees and the project’s landscape architect, Darrell Bird, stated “I do not know what other tree we could have used…to get the effect we wanted.”
In 2009, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon planted a Ginkgo tree at a commemorative tree-planting ceremony to celebrate Seattle’s contributions to protecting not only the environment around them but to the global environment. Ban Ki-Moon also spoke at University of Washington at an Ecological issues convention.
The use of Ginkgo trees in landscaping can be noted on and surrounding the University of Washington campus as well. There are multiple trees thriving on the campus, lining University Way and scattered throughout University District and the Ravenna and Montlake neighborhoods. These trees are found in every city in the United States, and whether it is in a backyard, lining a city street or planted in masses, human use of the tree is undoubtedly aiding its recovery.  

The recovery of the tree has even been included in policy-making across country, including Seattle. The City of Seattle’s proposed tree regulations state: “Interim tree regulations implemented to limit tree loss outside of developmental process and to prevent the cleaning of trees prior to submission of a developmental proposal”. This regulation saved a 32” dbh (diameter at breast height) Ginkgo tree from being torn down while the area around it was under construction recently.
As Ginkgo trees are extremely slow growing, this tree could be hundreds of years old at that size. Saving this tree means that not only will its beauty be recognized for generations, but the resilience of the tree as well. Seattle has been working for decades to become a more eco-friendly city and these tree regulations are one successful step in the process.  

The Ginkgo tree is a broadleaf, deciduous, and dioecious tree. By being dioecious, this means that it reproduces by the pollination of the female tree by means of the male tree. In order for a new tree to grow, the male and female trees need to be close enough for pollination to occur. The female trees produce a flower and fruit but it can take up to 20 years for them to be seen. The ‘fruit’ that the female tree produces is about the size of a cherry tomato and has a soft, fuzzy skin. When the fruit is dropped it produces a foul odor. This odor is described as rotting garbage, spoiled milk, and the likes. Due to the malodorous stench, most people are partial to the male tree, which does not produce fruit or flowers. When planting the Ginkgo tree, most opt for the male. The female tree is becoming less and less common.
                         
Because the male tree is seen by many landscape professionals and arborists as much more favorable, there has been a great loss in biodiversity. This loss in biodiversity has led to the Ginkgo tree’s classification as an endangered species. Old, native, original species of the tree are especially rare. Prehistoric Ginkgo trees have been found in Washington.
The construction of a highway in Central Washington led a local geologist to discover an area with several different types of trees, including the Ginkgo. This area was preserved and named the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. Although there are only a handful of Ginkgo trees in this park, it was so named because of the rarity of the tree.
                  
As we have seen, the Ginkgo tree has been used for medicine and decoration for thousands of years. With this long tradition comes the ability to grow the plant and ultimately cultivate it, known as agroecology. The Ginkgo is suited to moist, deep, and well-drained soils because the roots are more widespread, but it survives in a variety of soil pH levels, climates, with heat and cold. Planters usually fertilize the tree one to two times a year. The plant can also survive pest, fungus, viral, bacterial threats, ozone and sulfur pollution, fire, storms, ice-storms, and in one instance an atomic bomb. Typically, it grows in lowland forest valley areas below the 6,000 foot altitude mark.

Native growers would have to wait for the seasons to start growing the plant. This cold stratification, as it was called, meant going from cold to warm to let the seed know when to emerge. The germination would take place in sterile sand and they would have to fight off the mold that would attack the embryo before emerging.

The Japanese have used the Ginkgo in their bonsai gardens. This art form grows miniature aesthetically-pleasing plants in containers. The grower creates the plant to his ideals, more or less adapting the plant to suit a certain type of beauty. Shape, size, and proportion are considered and now there are many varieties suited to growth height, color, leaf shape, and weather conditions. Most of the Ginkgo Bonsai trees were the males since they do not produce the odorous fruit that the female does. The Japanese also used traditional environmental knowledge to take the chichi (nipples), which were the outer growths that eventually grew to the ground, and plot them upside down to make delicate leaves blossom from these little branches. Using those same techniques, they also grew the plant in some prefectures and several temples as a national monument.

A mechanical center-pivot sprinkler irrigates a monoculture field of Gingko Biloba seedlings
Although the female makes odorous fruit, the seeds are still valuable for the Ginkgo tree and economically for the growers. The plant, which fruits only after three to five years later, can create up to 36 pounds of seeds per tree per year. The seeds and leaves fetch a high price per kilogram nowadays. “In the local market, seeds are sold at US$507 per kg and dried leaves at US$1.50 to $2 per kg. Many institutions have researched how to generate even larger yields annually.” (Non-Wood News)

The Ginkgo tree has shown us the resiliency of certain life forms. While it was nearly extinct almost one million years ago and centralized only in China, it has been revived and now thrives across nearly every continent. Few plants have been known to survive from such a long time ago, even fewer display the longevity age-wise of an individual plant. Being such an adaptable and long-lasting plant, it has become aware to us, as a group, that Ginkgo tree is quite commonplace, including in the greater Seattle neighborhood.
We have developed an awareness of both the cultural and political aspects of the plant and how these intertwine with one another. By the same token, humans have greatly influenced the resiliency of the Ginkgo Biloba as well, yet the Ginkgo Biloba has affected human civilization for thousands of years, providing medicine and food, as well as symbolism in art, and will continue to do so as we learn more uses for it and come to understand its true value.
To learn more, use this link: Ginkgo Pages

In recent news:
For a PowerPoint File: Ginkgo PowerPoint Presentation

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