Thursday, November 24, 2011

Engelbert Kaempfer: Ginkgo biloba

This copper engraving, published in 1712, was based on a pencil drawing by Engelbert Kaempfer. It shows Ginkgo biloba.

A few facts about Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716)
1. He was born in northwestern Germany. His father was a pastor.
2. His training was as a physician and naturalist.
3. He was in Japan from 1690 until 1692, part of a journey by the Dutch East India Company to pay respects to the shogun.
4. His writings included both a seminal work on the plants of Japan, Amoenitatum Exoticarum (1712), and History of Japan, which was published posthumously in 1727. Throughout the 18th century, the latter was the source of most of the knowledge in the West about Japan.
5. When he died, his manuscripts were purchased by the London physician and collector Sir Hans Sloane.

A few facts about Ginkgo biloba
1. Kaempfer thought it was a Japanese plant, but in fact it is native only to China.
2. The tree is large, 65 - 115 feet in height.
3. It is one of the oldest tree species.
4. A tree can live as long as 1,000 years.
5. One of its uses in traditional medicine was to improve memory. Modern studies have shown, alas, that it has no measurable impact.

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