Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot

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Perhaps the world’s most distinctive tree, ginkgo has remained stubbornly unchanged for more than two hundred million years. A living link to the age of dinosaurs, it survived the great ice ages as a relic in China, but it earned its reprieve when people first found it useful about a thousand years ago. Today ginkgo is beloved for the elegance of its leaves, prized for its edible nuts, and revered for its longevity. This engaging book tells the rich and engaging story of a tree that people saved from extinction—a...

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Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot

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Perhaps the world’s most distinctive tree, ginkgo has remained stubbornly unchanged for more than two hundred million years. A living link to the age of dinosaurs, it survived the great ice ages as a relic in China, but it earned its reprieve when people first found it useful about a thousand years ago. Today ginkgo is beloved for the elegance of its leaves, prized for its edible nuts, and revered for its longevity. This engaging book tells the rich and engaging story of a tree that people saved from extinction—a story that offers hope for other botanical biographies that are still being written.
Inspired by the historic ginkgo that has thrived in London’s Kew Gardens since the 1760s, renowned botanist Peter Crane explores the history of the ginkgo from its mysterious origin through its proliferation, drastic decline, and ultimate resurgence. Crane also highlights the cultural and social significance of the ginkgo: its medicinal and nutritional uses, its power as a source of artistic and religious inspiration, and its importance as one of the world’s most popular street trees. Readers of this book will be drawn to the nearest ginkgo, where they can experience firsthand the timeless beauty of the oldest tree on Earth.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Dominique Browning
You might think you'd have to be a scholarly sort of tree hugger to wrap your mind around Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot…but this intelligent, literate history is so enticing it will leave you greedy for more.
New Scientist
A Best Science Book of 2013, New Scientist
The New York Times Book Review - Dominique Browning
"You might think you’d have to be a scholarly sort of tree hugger to wrap your mind around GINKGO: The Tree That Time Forgot, by Peter Crane, but this intelligent, literate history is so enticing it will leave you greedy for more."—Dominique Browning, New York Times Book Review
The Chicago Tribune
“It’s a personable story, as Crane examines the fossil record seeking to trace the plant’s evolution and the tree’s cultural impact.”—The Chicago Tribune
Scientific American
“Readers of this fascinating history will be glad to know there is at least one life-form that owes its survival, not its destruction, to humans.”—Scientific American
Edward S. Barnard
“Peter Crane’s Ginkgo is a remarkable accomplishment. I know of no other book on a single tree species that can compare with it for readability and thoroughness. It is a milestone in the botanical canon and will remain the most authoritative account of this fascinating species for many years to come.”—Edward S. Barnard
Financial Times - Jane Owen
"Ginkgo cranei, an extinct species of the family, is named after the author who lived beside the UK’s oldest Ginkgo while he was director of Kew Gardens. This qualification is dwarfed by the depth of Crane’s knowledge and the sparkle of his prose. He also reminds us why conservation matters: 'Letting species go extinct when we have the power to intervene is like letting a library burn just when we are learning how to read'." —Jane Owen, The Financial Times
The Biologist - Dr Graham Godfrey
“Peter Crane guides us through every aspect of the tree’s provenance, at the same time using it to weave an enthralling tale of people, history, evolution and conservation. He leaves no stone unturned in his quest to present the story of this remarkable tree . . . Those who read this book are likely to look upon the ginkgo tree with a sense of enchantment . . .”—Dr Graham Godfrey, The Biologist
Chemistry and Industry - Michael Gross
“[T]he appeal of a life form that saw the dinosaurs come and go prevails and makes this book a fascinating . . . read.”—Michael Gross, Chemistry & Industry
Science - J. C. McElwain
"After reading this captivating book, you will never simply just look at a tree of any species again, and most certainly not a ginkgo, without pondering its cultural importance, how it came to be growing in this place at this time, and its reproductive biology, economic uses, and phylogenetic position.”—J. C. McElwain, Science
"Highly recommended."—Choice
Curtis's Botanical Magazine - Martyn Rix
“Apart from covering all the main aspects of the biology, growth, history and cultivation of Ginkgo, it includes a fascinating account of the study of fossil plants and of the personalities involved . . . This is a delightful book to read, alike to botanists and to anyone with an interest in trees.”—Martyn Rix, Curtis’s Botanical Magazine
"Highly recommended."—Choice
Richard Fortey
"A remarkable book about a remarkable tree that came through from the age of the dinosaurs in one corner of China, and has now repopulated parks and gardens all over the world. An important biography of the ultimate survivor."—Richard Fortey, author of Horseshoe Crabs & Velvet Worms
Scott Wing
“This engaging book uses Ginkgo as a point of departure to examine a wide range of topics—the history of botanical exploration in China and Japan, as well as plant anatomy, physiology, evolution, extinction, and conservation. . . . It is both scholarly and accessible.”—Scott Wing, Smithsonian Institution
Peter H. Raven
"Ginkgo takes a place among the best books on plants that I have had the pleasure of reading. It provides an extremely interesting account of a remarkable plant through space, time, and culture."—Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden
Robert M May
"My favorite Ginkgo is the iconic 'over my dead body' in Hibiya Park in Tokyo. Peter Crane’s book will enchant both experts and newcomers to these splendid plants."—Robert M May, University of Oxford
Thomas E. Lovejoy
"Peter Crane provides a compelling and definitive portrait of the Tree That Time Forgot: its ancient lineage, its natural history, and history interwoven with eye-opening page turner about the Ginkgo in particular and trees in general. A triumph of beautifully written scholarship."—Thomas E. Lovejoy, University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
Michael McCarthy
"The Ginkgo is the elder statesman of the plant world, and Peter Crane’s erudite and fascinating biography is as absorbing as any account of the life of a Churchill or a Lincoln."—Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor, The Independent, London
Gregory Long
"An erudite blend of biology, cultural history, and tree lore, this poetic rhapsody to one very ancient but familiar tree is an enthralling sweep across deep time and the post-Linnaean world. A delightful read deserving to become a classic of natural history writing."—Gregory Long, President, The New York Botanical Garden
Kirk Johnson
"The Ginkgo tree is widely known but very few people know much about it. Peter Crane's superb new biography of this fascinating tree taps into science, culture, history, and medicine, using a single plant to tell a host of stories. Finally, Ginkgo gets its due."—Kirk Johnson, Sant Director, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
Nature - Sandra Knapp
“This biography of the ginkgo tree offers a potent mix of science, history, and culture, exploring how plants have changed our lives and our planet. And Peter Crane . . . is the perfect person to tell the tale. . . With its meticulous footnotes, satisfying referencing and gripping narrative, I can see this becoming a commuter’s favorite for scientists and general readers alike. . . Ginkgo will inspire you to know and care for the organisms with which we share this planet in a new way.”—Sandra Knapp, Nature
Kirkus Reviews
Crane (School of Forestry and Environmental Studies/Yale Univ.) shares his fascination with the ginkgo tree. During his tenure as the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, the author lived on the property. An iconic ginkgo that grew next to his house was the oldest in the U.K. and was a magnet for dignitaries and tourists. This 200-million-year-old species has proven to be remarkably resilient. It survived the extinction event that eliminated the dinosaur population and flourished in the Northern Hemisphere up until the Great Ice Age, when it maintained a foothold in China, from which it gradually spread to Korea and Japan. Buddhists considered it to be a sacred tree. As Asia was opened to the West, the tree was brought back to Europe, where it now adorns city streets, and then to North America. It has been determined experimentally that ginkgos mainly reproduce sexually, with a "rigid separate sex system," but they occasionally exhibit bisexual behavior. Paleobotanists and geneticists have determined the species' approximate age but are still working on its degree of kinship to modern vegetation such as conifers and flowering plants, as well as how it "fits into the broader constellation of living and extinct plant diversity." The tree, called the "Holy One of the East" by Chiang Kai-shek, was a symbol of Chinese nationalism in the fight against communism. An entertaining introduction to botanical lore.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300187519
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/19/2013
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 468,981
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Crane is Carl W. Knobloch Jr. Dean and professor, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, and former director of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. He divides his time between Oak Park, IL, and New Haven, CT.

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