Wild Ginkgo biloba
Dalou mountains, southwestern China


 
 

Questions about the extent of Ginkgo biloba’s native range in China have been the subject of debate among botanists for several decades.
Evidence for the persistance of wild Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgoaceae) populations in the valley and lower mountain slopes of the Dalou mountains in southwestern China  was published in 2012.

Wild Ginkgos have been found in Dalou mountains, located between Guizhou Province and Chongqing Municipality, southwestern China (27°43'44"- 28°56'14"N; 107°15'53"- 108°04'46"E; altitude 840-1200 m a.s.l.).
Extant Ginkgo populations in the valley and lower mountain slopes of the Dalou Mountains represent fragments of the original natural Ginkgo range. The area is a glacial refugium for these natural fragments. The climate is subtropical, warm and humid.

wild Ginkgo forest, Yangjiagou , China (photo Cindy Q. Tang)

wild Ginkgo biloba forest, 35 m height, limestone, Yangjiagou, Nanchuan County



The floristic composition of these Ginkgo forests shows that of  31 genera of canopy tree species in the present forests, 25 are also found in the Ginkgo biloba-bearing fossil records. The trees in the study sites are limestone outcrops near creeks and are subject to frequent natural disturbances.
 
 

Ginkgo seedling, Dazhuyuan, China (photo Cindy Q. Tang)

Ginkgo biloba seedling thriving in sun-exposed
limestone crevices in Dazhuyuan, Wuchuan County

wild Ginkgo forest, location , China (photo Cindy Q. Tang)
wild Ginkgo forest, location , China (photo Cindy Q. Tang)

location Ginkgo biloba 
Dalou Mountains, southwestern China


 

wild Ginkgo forest, Maopo , China (photo Cindy Q. Tang)

Ginkgo biloba tree (based on tree-ring analysis, the age was about 878 years in 2011)
with many sprouts, a feng shui tree with red cloth strips hung by villagers for good luck
Maopo, Nanchuan County
photo: Cindy Q. Tang

In these rocky inhospitable areas there have been no human settlements during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The Gelao people are indigenous to the area and they  have strict traditional taboo against either planting or logging Ginkgo trees. Han people began to appear in 1664, and they seem to have shared or agreed with the taboo of the Gelao. They believe that having forests near their farmhouses is good feng shui so they have not cut down the Ginkgo trees.
A factor in the survival of the ancient Ginkgo forests must have been the belief in feng shui.
 
 

wild Ginkgo forest, Xiangshuiyan , China (photo Yongchuan Yang)

Forest of wild Ginkgo biloba trees, 38 m height, limestone
Xiangshuiyan, Fenggang County
photo: Yongchuan Yang

wild Ginkgo forest, Yangjiagou , China (photo Cindy Q. Tang)

Ginkgo biloba sapling growing in limestone crevices 
Yangjiagou, Nanchuan County
photo: Cindy Q. Tang


 

Ginkgo biloba trees are on the UNEP-WCMC List of Threatened Species.



 
 

Article abstract

Evidence for the persistence of wild Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgoaceae) populations in the Dalou Mountains, southwestern China.

Tang CQ, Ohsawa M, Su WH, Zhang ZY, Peng MC, Wu ZL  Institute of Ecology and Geobotany, Yunnan University, Kunming 650091, China
Yang Y Faculty of Urban Construction and Environmental Engineering, Chongqing University, Chongqing 400045, China
Yi SR Institute of Medicinal Plants Cultivation of Chongqing, Nanchuan 408435, China
Momohara A Graduate School of Horticulture, Chiba University, 648 Matsudo, Chiba 271-8510, Japan
Wang HC Institute of Plant Science, Yunnan University, Kunming 650091, China


Premise of the study: The possible persistence of wild Ginkgo biloba populations in China has long been debated but never scientifically confirmed. We test our hypothesis that the extant Ginkgo populations in the Dalou Mountains (SW China) represent fragments of the original natural Ginkgo range and offer a range of pertinent perspectives on the living fossil Ginkgo's history, prehistory, ecology, and place in human culture-all important aspects of this highly valued species.
Methods: We analyzed the vegetation of the study area, determined the population age structure of Ginkgo, and compared it to existing fossil records. For supporting material, we also examined records of the lack of human presence before the mid-17th century in the area, the local people's beliefs regarding preservation of the forests and existing genetic studies.
Key results: Current species composition of Ginkgo forests in the Dalou Mountains agrees closely with floristic assemblages from fossil records bearing G. biloba. Current populations are found in habitats similar to those of fossil Ginkgo, which, as today, favored rock crevices. Female to male ratios are 3:2. Estimated ages for many of the trees show that Ginkgo was present in this area prior to human settlement and indigenous peoples of this area are unlikely to have planted Ginkgo because of traditional beliefs. Our results agree with existing genetic studies that show that these mountains were glacial refugia for G. biloba.
Conclusions: The corroborative evidence confirms the finding that these populations represent fragments of the original natural Ginkgo in the valley and lower mountain slopes of the Dalou Mountains.



American Journal of Botany 2012 Aug;99(8):1408-14. Epub 2012 Jul 30.
doi:10.3732/ajb.1200168

 

With thanks to Cindy Q. Tang, Professor of Plant Ecology,
Institute of Ecology and Geobotany, Yunnan University, Kunming, China.




Photos  © Cindy Q. Tang, Yunnan University, Kunming, China;
Yongchuan Yang, Chongqing University, Chongqing, China.
 
 

More photos of Ginkgo trees in China: click here.

© Cor Kwant

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