This a weird question to ask, as most of us only associate gender with humans and animals. The answer you will get may surprise you!
So, do trees have genders? Yes, trees have gender, and there are ways through which you can tell them apart. In fact, not being aware of the gender of specific trees may lead to problems in your garden later in the future.
Major Differences Between Male And Female Trees
The major difference between male and female trees or plants, is that female trees or flowers produce fruit seeds when male flowers or plants produce pollen.
Choosing the right tree gender is very important, regardless of what your landscaping plans are.
Tree Reproduction Between Genders
During sexual reproduction, the male pollen is transferred to the female of the same species. The pool will then grow to fertilize the female egg then produce a seed containing a living embryo.
Flowers and cones are responsible for the fertilization process. The gender that will be produced is determined by the flower or cones that are produced by the tree.
Tree flowers are unique, being that they can have male parts, female parts, a combination of both male and female parts, or none of them.
Interestingly, some of these parts may be dormant, and you cannot determine a tree’s gender merely by looking at it.
A tree’s gender remains hidden until the point where it starts to mature sexually and produce flowers. Depending on the tree species, there are different age ranges for a tree’s sexual maturity period. It could be between the ages of 1 to 50.
In some cases, sexual maturity occurs only for female or male flowers or cones.
For instance, a baby hardwood tree reaching a stage of maturity usually generate male flowers at first. They later move on to generate female flowers.
The reverse could be the case I so softwood trees. With these trees, the females are generated first for several years before the male cones are born on the same tree.
For some other trees, they will never switch genders. They will remain the same gender all through their existence.
Upon sexual maturity, some tree species can switch genders season after season. Some can also change genders during environmental changes.
During a study of a particular species of the maple tree, researchers found that 10 percent of sexually mature trees of that species changed gender every year.
For trees, there are 4 Major sexual systems. These include
A sexual tree is one that produces single flowers with fully active male and female components. Many refer to this type of flower as the “perfect flower”.
Trees that separate male and female parts into different flowers or cones in the same tree are known as monoecious trees.
Examples of such trees include cedar, beech, hazel, hickory, fir, birch, sweetgum, and hemlock.
As for dioecious trees, they split male and female parts across different trees, where each of the trees is strictly male and the other is strictly female.
Trees in this category include the boxelder, white ash, Osage orange, Aspen, ginkgo, and red cedar.
As for polygamous trees, they have co-sexual, male and female flowers or cones on the same tree, or indifferent combinations on different trees.
Common examples of polygamous trees include mulberry, locust, sumac, ash, and sugar maple tree.
Ash trees can cause write confusion as far as gender is concerned. In a particular ash species, individual trees had an average of 63% male flowers and 36% asexual flowers. It had just 1% of female flowers.
In the Eastern parts of America, about 40% of the trees there are monoecious. The other 30%, 20%, and 10% are co-sexual, dioecious, and polygamous respectively.
On Earth, co-sexual trees make up 75% of the total number, while 10% are monoecious. The remaining 15% is split between polygamous (10%) and dioecious (5%).
In the case of most trees, gender doesn’t necessarily determine sexual behavior. Trees effectively reproduce using various combinations of functional sexual parts, which are distributed in different types of flowers and cones.
The way we understand gender in animals isn’t the same way with trees. Be sure to inspect your trees before planting and determine their genders. Just so you’d know what to expect from them when they reach sexual maturity.
Can Trees Change Gender?
Yes, trees can change gender. Some gender changes in trees are caused by a change of environment, while some occur seasonally.
There has been some light shining on the oldest tree in the U.K, as it has shown signs of changing sex.
The tree in question is the Fortingall Yew tree in Scotland. It has lived for 5,000 years, during which it existed as a male tree. Recently, it has started producing female berries, which indicates it has started switching gender.
If you are looking to buy a plant of a specific gender for fruit production, keep In mind that you can’t tell the gender of a tree until it has reached the age of sexual maturity. At this stage, its flowers can be observed and assessed, and its sex determined. This will of course take years, as it does not happen overnight.
There are cases where the buyer would insist on knowing the gender of the plant before buying. This is advisable, as specific genders of some species can leave you filled with disgust and regrets.
An example of such a plant is the ginkgo tree. This is a Chinese tree that’s very large and popular for its shades. But that’s not all it is popular for. The fruits of female ginkgos are notorious for having an awful smell, so they are not ideal to be planted as street trees or garden trees.
If you are a town planner shopping for trees, I’m sure you would want to avoid laying your roads with many female ginkgos, as the stench would be unbearable by most.
There are a few species of trees that separate into male and female, and yews are among such trees.
On a male yew tree, you can occasionally find female flowers and vice versa. Ancient trees kike the Fortingall don’t have this characteristic. Even though it remains a male for most of its life, it is still capable of producing female flowers and red berries.
Possibly, the Fortingall has developed “sport”, which is a new growth that biologically distinct from the rest of the plant. If this happens, then expect to see the growth of another type of foliage or different color of flowers.
These transformations do not necessarily mean that the sex of the tree has changed.
Some coniferous species have been known to change the sex on different occasions. However, most scientists who have bothered to investigate can not be why.
Currently, the Fortingall tree and its unique changes are being studied. Hopefully, we will get more answers to this mystery.
There is a possibility that the female flowers on the Fortingall will spread, but the possibility of the whole tree becoming a full female is very low.
For female plants to produce seeds and fruits, they will need to consume more water and nutrients than males. In a mature tree, a total gender change would put a lot of pressure on the tree. This would probably kill the tree, as the transformation process is nutrient-zapping and resource-consuming.
There are a few ‘male-only’ cultivars in development. But there are no guarantees of success as the ginkgo trees have been proven to be able to change sexes.
How To Tell If Gingko Trees Are Male Or Female
Telling male and female trees apart can be done when both genders have reached their age of sexual maturity. Before then, it would be a very challenging task, one at which most people have failed.
As for the Gingko tree, telling the gender apart can be done through its fruits.
The female ginkgo produces a fruit that is nothing short of offensive and outright disgusting. The smell also lasts very long and is hard to get rid of.
This is not to say the fruits aren’t edible, because they are. Many Chinese herbalists use the fruits from a female ginkgo tree to make many medical concoctions that have been proven to work.
Besides the foul-smelling fruit, there is no other way to tell apart the genders of the ginkgo tree.
As I have mentioned earlier in this article, the only way you can tell tree genders apart is from the production of seeds and fruits at an age of sexual maturity.
The male trees produce pollen while the females are responsible for producing the fruits.
So in answer to your question – do trees have genders? The answer is yes, trees have gender, funny, and strange as it may seem.
I trust the information provided in this article has been informative.