What can leaves from our Ginkgo trees tell you about climate change? The Smithsonian is going to find out.

This August, the Botanic Garden contributed leaves from six of our Ginkgo biloba trees to Dr. Rich Barclay's Fossil Atmospheres project, which is taking place at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History. Research has shown that the density of stomata (gas exchange pores on a leaf) varies depending on environmental conditions the tree grows in.  Paleontologists can use this information to reconstruct past climates by measuring the pore density in fossil leaves. This approach provides a powerful proxy for tracking how the climate has changed over the past tens of millions of years. Fossil Atmospheres is collecting Ginkgo biloba leaves from all over the world to compare against fossil records in hopes of learning more about climate change over time.

Why Ginkgo biloba leaves? These trees predate even the dinosaurs! Fossil records of Ginkgo trees exist dating back over 200 million years ago. One species remains alive today, which means the genus has survived through three mass extinctions. While there have been many different species throughout time, they all belong to one genus, and the leaves are recognizably similar in all the different species. This makes them an ideal plant to study because they can provide a record from over 200 million years ago through to present day.

We're glad to share our leaves for this exciting project. Want to get involved? Fossil Atmospheres is asking for your help. Find out more by going to their website.

You can read more about the project in the Smithsonian's magazine.