August 31, 2021 | Jerry Bergman

Ginkgo ‘Living Fossil’ Trees Defy Evolution

“200 million-year-old” ginkgo tree leaves showcased
but their fossils often preserve original plant material


by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Even assuming the 200-million-year date, evolutionists have a hard time with ginkgo fossils. Yale University paleobotanist Peter Crane remarked,

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.[1]

Unchanged for 200 million years? During this amount of time evolutionists would expect some change, even if minor. A better possibility is they are not 200 million Darwin Years old. Regardless, ginkgo trees are indeed, The Tree That Time Forgot.[2]

Fossil Ginkgo leaf (Wiki Commons). Note the detail shown.

Amazingly, ginkgo tree fossils often preserve the actual plant material, not simply the leaf’s impression, as is true of many fossil leaves.[3] The thin sheet of organic matter preserved may be the key to understanding many details about the tree as well as its environment. It may also, some speculate, be the key to understanding Earth’s past climate.

Ginkgo is a pretty unique time capsule… scientists know the global average level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 410 parts per million – and Barclay knows what that makes the leaf look like. Thanks to the Victorian botanical sheets, he knows what ginkgo leaves looked like before humans had significantly transformed the planet’s atmosphere. Now he wants to know what pores in the fossilized ginkgo leaves can tell him about the atmosphere 100 million years ago.[4]

In this goal are many unanswered questions. Contamination is one. And if the fossil leaves were 100 million years old, it may not tell us much about the very different environment today compared to that in ‘deep time.’ If ginkgo trees assumed to be 100 million years old were really much younger—say 4,000 years old—erroneous conclusions would be drawn.

Some advantages of selecting ginkgo leaves for research

Ginkgo leaves have a distinct advantage in the fossil record; they have very distinctive fan shape that is instantly recognizable. They are also among the most common leaves found in the fossil record. As far as can be determined from a careful study, modern ginkgo leaves are identical to those claimed to be 200-million-years old. It is thus another example of a “living fossil that has remained essentially unchanged in terms of gross morphology for more than 200 million years.”[5] They are so common that one can buy excellent well-preserved examples of ginkgo tree fossils on eBay for a little over 100 dollars![6] Even more amazing is the fact that they were found alive in China, brought to Europe around 1750, and have since become popular ornamental shade trees sold at nurseries.

Some traits of the tree

Ginkgo leaf showing its distinctive fan design (Wiki Commons).

Ginkgoes are enormously large trees, reaching a height of from 20 to as high as 35 meters (66–165 ft). As they are claimed to have first appeared almost 300 million years ago, some might assume they are very primitive, but not so. They have an enormous genome of 10.6 billion DNA base pairs compared to the human genome of only three billion base pairs. It has about 41,840 genes compared to humans’ mere 23,000 genes.[7] Its resilience to various environmental assaults is legendary. It can withstand insect and fungus attacks as well as pollution that can kill other trees.[8] It was one of the few living things to survive the 1945 atomic bomb blast in the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

For these reasons, the ginkgo “is one of the most distinctive plants. It possesses a suite of fascinating characteristics including a large genome, outstanding resistance/tolerance to abiotic and biotic stresses, and dioecious reproduction, making it an ideal model species for biological studies.”[9] Dioecious reproduction is a species trait meaning that it has distinct sexes; one produces male gametes and the other female gametes. Pollen-producing structures and ovules are produced on separate trees. The ginkgoes and the cycads are also the only seed-producing plants that have motile sperm.

Evolution or design

Because the tree is very different than other trees, their evolutionary history has baffled Darwinists. Nonetheless, “Most botanists feel that the Gingkoes are in some way related to pines. The fan-shaped leaves look very much like pine needles with green webbing between them.”[10] This guess is the best missing link possibility that evolutionists have been able to come up with after over a century of research on the trees. Darwin described the ginkgo as a “living fossil” thereby coining this phrase still used today. More and more “living fossils” have been found which evolutionists have struggled to explain.[11]


The attempt to understand climate change by a study of ginkgo leaves is problematic even before the research has begun. Nonetheless, I encourage any and all research on the ginkgo which will help us understand this unique tree and its evolution (or, rather, lack thereof). The ginkgo defies evolution because it is a very unique tree that does not appear to be related to any living or extinct tree. A study of the leaf tissue will no doubt shed much light on its design rather than its evolution, further demonstrating the current opinion that the first ginkgo was essentially a modern ginkgo. The most well-known use of Gingko biloba leaves, the only extant ginkgo species in the order Ginkgoales, is medicinal. Supporters of using this leaf extract claim that it improves blood flow to the brain and acts as an antioxidant. Opinions are mixed on this claim, especially with regard to the Ginkgo biloba efficacy in the treatment of Alzheimer’s dementia.[12]


[1] Quoted in Christina Larson. 2021. Fossil leaves may reveal climate in last era of dinosaurs., April 21.

[2] Crane, Peter. 2015. Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

[3] Larson, 2021.

[4] Larson, 2021.

[5] Guan, Rui, et al., 2016. Draft genome of the living fossil Ginkgo biloba. GigaScience 5(1): s13742-016-0154-1, November 21, .


[7] Guan, et al., 2016; Ginkgo ‘living fossil’ genome decoded. 2016. BBC News, 21 November.

[8] Smith, Howard. 1982. Living Fossils. New York, NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, p. 18.

[9] Guan, Rui, et al., 2016.

[10] Smith, 1982, p. 18. Emphasis added.

[11] Jorge, A. Herrera-Flores, Thomas L. Stubbs, and Michael J. Benton. 2017. Macroevolutionary patterns in Rhynchocephalia: Is the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) a living fossil? Palaeontology, February 22, DOI: 10.1111/pala.12284.

[12] Mazza et al., 2006. Ginkgo biloba and donepezil: a comparison in the treatment of Alzheimer’s dementia in a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study, Eur J Neurol, Sept.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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