Tree of the Dinosaurs

The Palm Garden at the Huntington looks as if it’s Jurassic Park, and that a dinosaur could stroll by. Do you see the tall tree on the left that isn’t a palm, the one with the park bench? Here’s a photo below.

Ginkgo trees are the oldest trees on earth, virtually unchanged for more than 200 million years. This is a Ginkgo biloba, the only living species, also called a maidenhair tree.

Gingko trees lived alongside dinosaurs for more than 100 million years.

If it doesn’t seem exotic enough for a primeval forest, take a look at its leaves.

Because ginkgo trees are ancient and unique (more on that later), their appearance is wonderfully bizarre.

Here’s two views of a tree at the Arboretum of Los Angeles County. Below, I’ve outlined it in blue.

I’ve been a ginkgo fan ever since I was a geology major and learned they survived the mass extinction at the end of the Mesozoic Era. I was impressed! Not only all the dinosaurs perished, but up to 80% of the world’s plant and animal species.

This happened because, 66 million years ago, a large meteorite landed in the Gulf of Mexico and caused an enormous tsunami. The climate was disrupted.

Two ginkgo species survived this cataclysmic event. The species we see today, Ginkgo biloba, came about a little later, according to the Paleontological Research Institution.

There are only five living groups of seed plants, and ginkgo is one of them. And ginkgo is the only one that consists of just one species.

Dr. Peter Crane, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

By contrast, one of the other seed groups is flowering plants, with about 350,000 living species, Dr. Crane pointed out. The ginkgo, he says, is solitary and unique.

Endangered in the wild, they are popular with humans, common in gardens and along streets. Their fan-shaped leaves turn bright yellow in autumn.

There’s often history here in Past and Present with Pamela, but usually I only go back a hundred years or so. Today it’s 200 million years. In case you missed it, here’s a post where we looked back a thousand years.