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Creation 44(2):12–14, April 2022

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Ginkgo: remarkable ‘living fossil’


Wiki/Susanna GiaccaiGinkgo
Fig. 1: The ginkgo, also known as the maidenhair tree

Ginkgo (or maidenhair) trees are rightly called ‘weeping wonders’ (fig. 1). Their fan-shaped leaves with veins radiating out into the leaf blade are unique (fig. 2). No other leaf design even comes close, so ginkgos are rarely confused with other tree kinds. They can reach heights of up to 35 metres (115 ft).

Although enormous in size, ginkgos (sometimes spelled gingkos or even ginkos) are deep-rooted trees, making them resistant to wind and snow damage. Their resilience to various environmental assaults is legendary. They can withstand insect and fungus attacks as well as pollution that can kill other trees.1 Ginkgo trees were one of the few living things to survive the 1945 atomic bomb blast in the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Unique reproductive system

Trees have three primary modes of reproduction: monoecious, cosexual, and dioecious. Monoecious trees have separate male and female parts producing flowers or cones on the same tree. Examples include fir, birch, hickory, and walnut trees. Cosexual trees produce single flowers that contain both fully functional male and female parts. This type includes the apple, cherry, pear, and American elm. Ginkgo trees use the third type, dioecious reproduction. Dioecious trees have two separate sexes as do humans: Male trees produce flowers and pollen, and female trees produce flowers, fruit, and seeds. For this reason, they are ideal trees for biological studies.2

The gender of many trees is not apparent until they are sexually mature and begin to flower. Furthermore, the ginkgos and the cycads are the only seed-producing plants that have motile male gametes.3 So their reproductive systems are very complex.

Medicinal qualities

Ginkgo biloba leaves are commonly used for medicinal purposes. Supporters claim that the leaf extract, containing substances called ginkgolides, improves brain blood flow, reduces Alzheimer’s symptoms, treats tinnitus, and even improves Raynaud’s disease (a disorder reducing blood flow in the small blood vessels of body extremities, such as the fingers). Ginkgolides are also antioxidants.4 Ginkgo biloba leaves are one of Europe’s best-selling herbal medications.

The ginkgo tree as a ‘living fossil’

Charles Darwin described the ginkgo tree as a “living fossil”, thereby coining a phrase still used today. Although many ‘living fossils’ have been found, the ginkgo is one of the best-documented.5 Paleobotanist Dr Susannah Lydon observes,

Wiki/Joe SchneidGinkgo-leaves
Fig. 2: The distinctive leaf of a living ginkgo

One of the most well-known plant survivors is Ginkgo biloba—the only living species of its group, which is first recognized in the fossil record nearly 300 million years ago [i.e. Permian, where the order Ginkgoales is found; the genus Ginkgo appears mid-Jurassic]. By any given definition of ‘living fossil’—and there are many—Ginkgo biloba fits the bill.6

The Ginkgo biloba is “one of the wonders of the natural world, a ‘living fossil’ whose arboreal ancestors date back to the Jurassic period”.7 Yale University paleobotanist Peter Crane opined:

It is hard to imagine that these [ginkgo] trees, now towering above cars and commuters, grew up with the dinosaurs and have come down to us almost unchanged for 200 million years.8

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this alleged ancient age is correct, one would think that during this enormous amount of elapsed time evolutionists would expect some biological change. These dates can only be guesstimates anyway, since they range (in print) anywhere from 200 to 300 million years ago—an enormous difference. This lack of evolutionary change has earned ginkgos the title of The Tree That Time Forgot.9

In comparison, most scientists believe that the ‘human’ family tree (known as the sub-group hominin) “split from the chimpanzees and other apes about five to seven million years ago.”10 This means it required only 5 to 7 million years for humans to evolve from our putative common ancestor with chimpanzees, yet Ginkgo biloba trees have manifested no detectable change in as much as 60 times that timeframe! This provides yet another example of the major difficulties of the secular dating system.

Such unchanged ‘living fossil’ representatives, technically known as ‘persistent types’, “puzzle and annoy the evolutionists, who feel obligated to explain why, in a world of change, these forms continue in their old placid way without changing or becoming extinct. … There must have been large changes in climate, changes in the environment, new enemies, new parasites, new diseases. Yet these creatures, without showing any special virtues or abilities, continue unchanged.”11

Their very distinctive fan-shaped leaves assist in identifying ginkgo leaves in the fossil record (fig. 3). They are also one of the most common fossil leaves.

Fig. 3: Ginkgo leaves are both common and unmistakable in the fossil record.

An enormous genome

As ginkgo trees are claimed to have first appeared 300 million years ago, some might assume they are genetically very simple and ‘primitive’. However, they have an enormous and complex genome consisting of 10.6 billion DNA base pairs—compared to the human genome of three billion base pairs. They also have about 41,840 genes compared to humans’ 23,000 genes.12

The leaf is quite different to all other trees, and this suggests a large genetic gap between them and all other trees. Leaf shape is also a primary means of identifying trees. Thus, their evolutionary history has totally baffled Darwinists. Trying to determine their phylogeny, “Most botanists feel that the Ginkgoes are in some way related to pines. The fan-shaped leaves look very much like pine needles with green webbing between them.”13 After over a hundred years of research, this questionable guess is the best ‘missing-link’ possibility that evolutionists have been able to come up with.


Ginkgos challenge evolutionists because they are unique trees that do not appear to be related, in an evolutionary sense, to any living or extinct tree. Professor Peter Crane, when studying a stone slab containing ancient ginkgo plant leaves, wrote that the “slab alone is enough to suggest the great antiquity of the ginkgo lineage, but it raises a still more fundamental question: where did [the] ginkgo come from?”14 He speculated on some possibilities in his book, Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot.

The current conclusion is that the first ginkgo in the fossil record was very similar to a modern ginkgo. The fact is, they were initially and individually fully formed, as were the dinosaurs, during the Creation Week of Genesis 1.

Posted on homepage: 3 April 2023

References and notes 

  1. Smith, H. Jnr, Living Fossils, p. 18, Dodd, Mead & Company, NY, 1982. Return to text.
  2. Guan, R. et al., Draft genome of the living fossil Ginkgo biloba, GigaScience 5(1):s13742-016-0154-1, 2016. Return to text.
  3. Gifford, E., Gingophyte: Reproductive structures and function, britannica.com, 2021. Return to text.
  4. Mazza, M. et al., Ginkgo biloba and donepezil: A comparison in the treatment of Alzheimer’s dementia in a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study, European J. Neurology 13: 981–985, 2006. Return to text.
  5. Herrera-Flores, J. et al., Macroevolutionary patterns in Rhynchocephalia: Is the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) a living fossil? Palaeontology 60(Part 3):319–328, 2017. Return to text.
  6. Lydon, S., Living fossils: The plants holding the key to ancient and modern climate change, theguardian.com, 14 Dec 2015. Return to text.
  7. Jonnes, J., The Living Dinosaur: Peter Del Tredici’s search for the wild ginkgo, harvardmagazine.com, 2011. Return to text.
  8. Quoted in Larson, C., Fossil leaves may reveal climate in last era of dinosaurs, ABC News, 24 Aug 2021. Return to text.
  9. Crane, P., Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot, Yale University Press, 2015. Return to text.
  10. Blaxland, B. et al., Sharing a common ancestor, The Australian Museum, 2018. Return to text.
  11. Macbeth, N., Darwin Retried, Gambit Publications, Boston MA, p. 121, 1971. Return to text.
  12. Ginkgo ‘living fossil’ genome decoded, bbc.com, 21 Nov 2016. However, genomic complexity is not simply a matter of the number of genes, as genes can be read in different ways to get different proteins. Return to text.
  13. Smith, ref. 1, p. 18. Emphasis added. Return to text.
  14. Crane, ref. 9, p. 83. Return to text.

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