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Plant Profiles

Chi Chi ginkgo

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Young ginkgo branches are immediately identifiable in Winter, evenly studded with little spurs from which clusters of leaves emerge in Spring.  Older branches of 'Chi Chi' are much, much, weirder.

 

See how the branch in the picture below has—all of a sudden—a patch of many branch spurs?  And the larger limb angling off to the left seems on the cusp of an outbreak of swellings and eruptions and bumps.

 

ginkgo-biloba-chichi-branchbumps-640

 

A bit farther down, some other swellings are well underway.  'Chi Chi' is the cultivar to grow for such swellings.  That's its talent.  They can get so large that the actual meaning of chi chi—which is Japanese slang for nipples or breasts—is a propos.

 

ginkgo-biloba-chichi-trunkbumps-640

 

Even the straight species Ginkgo trees are often "breasty"—but only with great age.  Their chi chi can enlarge to overt pendulosity, and can be so numerous that the trees have an Earth Mother look.  In reality, the swellings aren't mammary at all—ginkgos are trees, not mammals—but, rather, are concentrations of growth tissue.  If an old ginkgo tree were involved in an earthquake or mud-slide, or its main trunk were destroyed by lightning or fire, its chi chi could root into the ground, soon sending up new ginkgo trunks of their own.  One ginkgo tree would become a tight grove of ginkgo trees. 

 

The 'Chi Chi' cultivar is only doing much sooner what almost any ginkgo tree might do much later.  GInkgo trees can live many centuries—individuals that are about 2,500 years old are known—and any one tree probably wouldn't even begin to form chi chi within the lifetime of the gardener who planted it.

 

I planted 'Chi Chi' only a decade ago—and already it has already to chi chi

 

 

Here's how to grow this quirky shrub ginkgo:


Latin Name

Ginkgo biloba 'Chi Chi'

Common Name

'Chi Chi' dwarf ginkgo

Family

Ginkgoaceae, the Ginkgo family.

What kind of plant is it?

Male deciduous tree. 

Hardiness

Zones 3 - 8; some growers say Zones 4 - 9.

Habit

Unlike full-sized ginkgos, 'Chi Chi' is shrubby and multi-stemmed in youth as well as maturity.

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

Reports vary; one grower swears 'Chi Chi' will never top five feet.  Another says sixteen. 

Texture

Lively and full, thanks to ginkgo's unique foliage.

Grown for

its foliage:  Typical fan-shaped ginkgo leaves, but a bit smaller in size, and more congested in spacing, than those of the straight species.

 

its overall habit: 'Chi Chi' is a multi-stemmed shrub, not a full-sized tree.

 

the peculiar swellings on its branches and trunk:  These bumps—known as chi chi—begin to appear at an early age; normally only very old trees of the straight species even start to display them.  They are nodules of growth tissue, and can form roots if they touch ground.

 

its tolerance and hardiness:  Ginkgos are famously untroubled by pests or diseases, and thrive despite restricted planting areas, potential pollution, and spotty irrigation typical for a city street tree.  Even if 'Chi Chi' is hardy only to Zone 4 instead of Zone 3, that still means it can grow throughout the entire Northeast and well into Canada.

Flowering season

Spring; ginkgo flowers aren't showy. 

Color combinations

'Chi Chi' brings light green leaves and grey bark to the warm-weather garden, so goes with anything.  The lovely yellow Fall foliage goes with anything, too; in any event, it's not long lasting.  A ginkgo tree can be in full Fall foliage, but if there's a deep freeze that night, by the next morning the foliage can all be on the ground. 

Partner plants

In foliage, 'Chi Chi' is full enough that it doesn't need warm-weather partners.  When it's leafless, 'Chi Chi' can be enhanced by dark and dense evergreen accompaniments, both at the back and as a groundcover, to help point up the regularly-spaced spurs on its branches as well as the odd protuberances of the chi-chi themselves.  Think yews at the back, vinca underfoot. 

Where to use it in your garden

The bumpy branches are weird enough to merit viewing at close range, at least in cold weather, when the bush isn't in leaf.  Plant 'Chi Chi' close to a pathway that's convenient even during the Winter.  For a species that has few branches in youth, ginkgos in general are surprisingly comfortable with being pruned.  'Chi Chi' is a naturally-branchy shrub to begin with, so another use would be to plant it as a hedge.  See "How to handle it: Another option—or two?" below.

Culture

Full sun; ginkgos are intolerant of shade.  Almost any soil as long as it's reasonably well-draining.  Ginkgos are unusually easygoing, which is one reason they succeed so well as street trees.

How to handle it: The Basics

'Chi Chi' can be planted either in Spring or Fall.  Plant this shrub within a yard or two of a pathway, so you can give it a close look year-round.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

Plant every two feet; there's no need to buy large plants, which, in any event, would be ruinously expensive.  'Chi Chi' establishes well, so even tiny starter plants will succeed as long as you don't step on them or mow them down in their first couple of years.  Prune either in early Spring or in Fall; Fall-pruned hedges maintain a tight geometry all Winter.  Ginkgos are so hardy that you could also prune in mid-Summer without worry that the resultant new growth wouldn't be able to survive the Winter.

 

Ginkgos' adaptability to pruning as well as to restricted root runs means that they're good bonsai subjects.  'Chi Chi' would be particularly appropriate because it's comparatively compact to begin with.  Further, when grown as a bonsai, the trunk and branch swellings would be in full display.

 

'Chi Chi' would also make a beautiful grafted standard.  It's naturally bushy as well as amenable to pruning.  Plus, the grafting will elevate the bumpy trunk and branches to eye-level.

Quirks or special cases

Ginkgo trees are either male or female.  The females produce edible nuts that are enclosed in remarkably smelly fruit that is also dangerously slippery underfoot.  Some localities prohibit the planting of female ginkgos. 

 

Never plant seed-grown ginkgos.  It can take twenty years for the trees to flower—and, therefore, to reveal their sex.  By that time, they'd be approaching full size, and it would be unfortunate to have to remove any that were female. 

 

Only plant named cultivars.  They are often (but not always) identified by sex, or by being described as fruitless, i.e., male.  But new cultivars can be so intriguing, and the market so ready, that they're usually brought to market many years before any of their individuals will have become old enough to have flowered.  (Would you want to wait a couple of decades before trying to sell your cool new ginkgo cultivar?)  So there's an element of suspense inherent in planting recently "hatched" ginkgos.  If a dwarf ginkgo reveals itself to be female, well, that would be just a smelly but small seasonal joke.  A full-size ginkgo that—surprise!—turns out to be female would be massively unpleasant: The stench of the fruit travels well.  Worse, if the tree is close enough to drop fruit onto pavement, it could also be unsafe as well as a legal liability.  Unless you're growing females in an agricultural setting, never plant a ginkgo that's intended to become full-size unless it has been firmly identified as a male.

Downsides

Youngsters of cultivars that will mature to full size are sparsely-branched and gawky.  It takes a certain vision as well as faith to plant one and remain secure in the knowledge of how massive and full it will have become at maturity.

Variants

Although there are other extinct Ginkgo species, only G. biloba has survivedIt has been under cultivation for millenia, and was thought to be extinct in the wild until two two small colonies were discovered in eastern China.  These are so genetically similar, though, that even they are thought to have arisen from cultivated individuals.  Over many centuries of cultivation, dozens of naturally-occuring and hybridized variants have emerged. 

 

These can have habits that are dwarf and congested; full-size but narrow and even columnar; medium-size and more or less horizontal in their branching; or, as with 'Ross Moore', medium-size and truly weeping.  Leaves can be variously lobed or curled.  There are variegates, too, but the variegation is always in the direction of the leaf veins, either in narrow stripes or in pie-shaped segments.  The ginkgo-hungry world is still awaiting variegation that's concentric to the base of the leaf, i.e., all along the leaf's curved edge, say, or just at the base. 

 

'Beijing Gold' is a particularly welcome cultivar in that, at least in Spring and early Summer, the entire leaf is yellow, not just variegated.  At the other end of the growing season, the leaves of 'Autumn Gold' become reliably vivid in the Fall.

 

There are also female cultivars that have been selected for their capabilities as nut producers.  

 

'Princeton Sentry', 'Fastigiata', and 'Magyar' are among several upright male cultivars to choose from when planting ginkgos as street trees or in groves where they're spaced closer than thirty feet apart. 

 

'Canopy' is full-size but with usually wide-spreading limbs.  Ginkgos are not especially prone to storm, snow, or ice damage, so wide-spreading cultivars are welcome.

 

Ginkgo variants are usually not as multi-valent as those of European beeches, where you can choose a tree that's, say, dwarf and weeping and purple-leaved.  Variegated ginkgos have a normal broad and upright habit; dwarf ginkgos don't (yet!) also have variegated leaves.  That said, 'Chi Chi' is medium-size and bumpy-barked. 

Availability

On-line and at "destination" nurseries.

Propagation

'Chi Chi' is propagated by grafting or by cuttings.

Native habitat

Ginkgo biloba is native to China.  Given its Japanese cultivar name, 'Chi Chi' probably originated in Japan.

 
 
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