This is a weird question, 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.
Significant Differences Between Male And Female Trees
The significant difference between male and female trees or plants is that female trees or flowers produce fruit seeds while male flowers or plants produce pollen.
Choosing the correct tree gender is very important, regardless of your landscaping plans.
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 and 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 made by the tree.
Tree flowers are unique because they can have male parts, female parts, a combination of male and female roles, or none.
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 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 maturity stage usually generates male flowers at first. They later move on to create female flowers.
The reverse could be the case in such 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 maple tree species, 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 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 purely female.
Trees in this category include the boxelder, white ash, Osage orange, Aspen, ginkgo, and red cedar.
Polygamous, trees have co-sexual, male and female flowers or cones on the same tree or in different combinations.
Common polygamous trees include mulberry, locust, sumac, ash, and sugar maple.
Ash trees can cause writing 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 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 in environment, while some occur seasonally.
Light has been 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 and existed as a male tree. It has recently started producing female berries, indicating it has begun 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 regret.
An example of such a plant is the ginkgo tree. This Chinese tree is enormous and famous for its shades. But that’s not all it is renowned for. The fruits of female ginkgos are notorious for having an awful smell, so they are not ideal to be planted as street 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 to most.
A few species of trees separate into male and female, and yews are among such trees.
You can occasionally find female flowers on a male yew tree and vice versa. Ancient trees kike the Fortingall don’t have this characteristic. Even though it remains male for most of its life, it can still produce female flowers and red berries.
Possibly, the Fortingall has developed “sport,” a new growth that was initially distinct from the rest of the plant. If this happens, expect to see the development 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 their sex on different occasions. However, most scientists who have bothered to investigate can not be why.
Currently, the Fortingall tree and its notable 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 case of the whole tree becoming a full female is very low.
For female plants to produce seeds and fruits, they 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 that 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 the age of sexual maturity.
The male trees produce pollen, while the females are responsible for producing 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.