The Maidenhair tree--Gingkgo biloba--of which we give an illustration, is not only one of our most ornamental deciduous trees, but one of the most interesting. Few persons would at first sight take it to be a Conifer, more especially as it is destitute of resin; nevertheless, to that group it belongs, being closely allied to the Yew, but distinguishable by its long-stalked, fan-shaped leaves, with numerous radiating veins, as in an Adiantum. These leaves, like those of the larch but unlike most Conifers, are deciduous, turning of a pale yellow color before they fall. The tree is found in Japan and in China, but generally in the neighborhood of temples or other buildings, and is, we believe, unknown in a truly wild state. As in the case of several other trees planted in like situations, such as Cupressus funebris, Abies fortunei, A. kaempferi, Cryptomeria japonica, Sciadopitys verticillata, it is probable that the trees have been introduced from Thibet, or other unexplored districts, into China and Japan. Though now a solitary representative of its genus, the Gingkgo was well represented in the coal period, and also existed through the secondary and tertiary epochs, Professor Heer having identified kindred specimens belonging to sixty species and eight genera in fossil remains generally distributed through the northern hemisphere.
Whatever inference we may draw, it is at least certain that the tree was well represented in former times, if now it be the last of its race. It was first known to Kaempfer in 1690, and described by him in 1712, and was introduced into this country in the middle of the eighteenth century. Loudon relates a curious tale as to the manner in which a French amateur became possessed of it. The Frenchman, it appears, came to England, and paid a visit to an English nurseryman, who was the possessor of five plants, raised from Japanese seeds. The hospitable Englishman entertained the Frenchman only too well. He allowed his commercial instincts to be blunted by wine, and sold to his guest the five plants for the sum of 25 guineas. Next morning, when time for reflection came, the Englishman attempted to regain one only of the plants for the same sum that the Frenchman had given for all five, but without avail. The plants were conveyed to France, where as each plant had cost about 40 crowns, ecus, the tree got the name of arbre a quarante ecus.
This is the story as given by Loudon, who tells us that Andre Thouin used to relate the fact in his lectures at the Jardin des Plantes, whether as an illustration of the perfidy of Albion is not stated.
The tree is dioecious, bearing male catkins on one plant, female on another. All the female trees in Europe are believed to have originated from a tree near Geneva, of which Auguste Pyramus de Candolle secured grafts, and distributed them throughout the Continent. Nevertheless, the female tree is rarely met with, as compared with the male; but it is quite possible that a tree which generally produces male flowers only may sometimes bear female flowers only. We have no certain evidence of this in the case of the Gingkgo, but it is a common enough occurrence in other dioecious plants, and the occurrence of a fruiting specimen near Philadelphia, as recently recorded by Mr. Meehan, may possibly be attributed to this cause.
The tree of which we give a figure is growing at Broadlands, Hants, and is about 40 feet in height, with a trunk that measures 7 feet in girth at 3 feet from the ground, with a spread of branches measuring 45 feet. These dimensions have been considerably exceeded in other cases. In 1837 a tree at Purser's Cross measured 60 feet and more in height. Loudon himself had a small tree in his garden at Bayswater on which a female branch was grafted. It is to be feared that this specimen has long since perished.
We have already alluded to its deciduous character, in which it is allied to the larch. It presents another point of resemblance both to the larch and the cedar in the short spurs upon which both leaves and male catkins are borne, but these contracted branches are mingled with long extension shoots; there seems, however, no regular alternation between the short and the long shoots, at any rate the rationale of their production is not understood, though in all probability a little observation of the growing plant would soon clear the matter up.
The fruit is drupaceous, with a soft outer coat and a hard woody shell, greatly resembling that of a Cycad, both externally and internally. Whether the albumen contains the peculiar "corpuscles" common to Cycads and Conifers, we do not for certain know, though from the presence of 2 to 3 embryos in one seed, as noted by Endlicher, we presume this is the case. The interest of these corpuscles, it may be added, lies in the proof of affinity they offer between Conifers and the higher Cryptogams, such as ferns and lycopods--an affinity shown also in the peculiar venation of the Gingkgo. Conifers are in some degree links between ordinary flowering plants and the higher Cryptogams, and serve to connect in genealogical sequence groups once considered quite distinct. In germination the two fleshy cotyledons of the Gingkgo remain within the shell, leaving the three-sided plumule to pass upward; the young stem bears its leaves in threes.
We have no desire to enter further upon the botanical peculiarities of this tree; enough if we have indicated in what its peculiar interest consists. We have only to add that in gardens varieties exist some with leaves more deeply cut than usual, others with leaves nearly entire, and others with leaves of a golden-yellow color.--Gardeners' Chronicle.
THE MAIDENHAIR TREE IN THE GARDENS AT BROADLANDS.