In many ways, Gingko biloba is the most extraordinary tree in the world. It is the only remaining representative of the Gingkoales which were amongst the earliest woody plants on earth and which dominated woodlands in the Jurassic and Triassic eras, at the time of the earlier dinosaurs. The leaves are primitive fern-like fans with dichotomous veining. The tree is dioecious and the female fruits are ovules with disgusting smelling outer flesh. Nevertheless, gingko extracts are supposed to promote health and ageing. It is unknown in the wild in historical times and survived only in Buddhist temples in China where it is greatly revered.A hardy tree with attractive autumn foliage, it can be very difficult to kick-start into growth in northern Britain. In warmer climates it can make a large tree. Kew, UK.

An ancient gingko 30 m high, Kew, UK.

Gingko biloba 'Pendula'. Foliage in autumn. Kew, UK. There are also fastigiate ('Tremonia') and variegated varieties of gingko available.

Gleditsia japonica. Kew, UK. Gleditsias are leguminous trees with 'brush' flowers later forming large pods. Many are ferociously thorny. Most are not very hardy in the UK, although G. triacanthos, Honey Locust, from the central USA can withstand hard frosts. Other species are native to South America and eastern Asia, including the Japanese Locust, pictured here.

Hamamelis mollis. Chinese Witch Hazel. This magnificent winter-flowering shrub is the species most often grown and often has excellent autumn colouration. Familiar varieties such as 'Pallida' belong to this species. Wisley, UK.

The Japanese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis japonica is rarely grown, but its hybrids with H. mollis, H. x intermedia have given rise to many popular varieties including many with red or orange flowers. Some of these produce the best red autumn leaf colours, and 'Diane', pictured here at Bodnant, Wales, is perhaps the best of these.

Not many hydrangeas colour well in autumn, although H. quercifolia and H. serrata are exceptions. H. quercifolia, pictured here in the author's garden, Hexham, UK responds well to early frosts which can stimulate the production of fibe purple tints. The species, which is not hardy in some northern areas of the UK, originates in the SE USA.

Juglans ailanthifolia, the Japanese Walnut, makes an elegant tree with an airy habit. Most walnuts have good yellow autumn coloration. Thorpe Perrow, N Yorkshire.

Juglans cinerea. Butternut. This walnut relative growing from New Brunswick to Georgia in eastern north America makes a medium-sized tree. It is very rare in British tree collections, but makes an excellent autumn show. Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.

Juglans nigra. Black Walnut. This is the native walnut of the Eastern USA and the fastest growing in cultivation, rapidly forming a large tree with edible nuts. Kew, UK.

Kalopanax septemlobus, Prickly Castor Oil Tree. This large tree (to 30 m) is in the Araliaceae and so it a relative of ivy. It is extremely hardy, and originates from north Japan and even north to Sakhalin. Its English name comes from a supposed resemblance to the toxic herb Ricinus communis. The leaves resemble those of an Acer or Liquidamber, but the stems are very thorny. Kew, UK.

Leucathoe fontanasiana 'Scarletta'. This dwarf shrub is a deciduous member of the Ericaeae from SE north America. It requires an acidic soil which never dries out. Bodnant, Wales.

Liquidambar styraciflua (Hamamelidaceae) is one of the finest of all autumn-colouring deciduous trees. Originating from the eastern USA, its lobed leaves often cause it to be mistaken for an Acer (maple), although it tends to colour later and it does not have the characteristic keys (fruits) of maples. It is a variable plant, and when several seedlings are grown together, their autumn impact can vary considerably. Wisley, UK.

Liquidambar styraciflua, Kew, UK.

Liquidamabar styraciflua, foliage close up. Kew, UK.

Liquidambar formosana 'Monticola Group'. Like many genera of ancient trees, liquidamabars have a disjunct range in the SE USA and China. This is a Chinese species with beautiful large leaves which are usually three-lobed. Knightshayes, Devon.

Liriodendron tulipifera, the Tulip Tree, is a large tree from eastern north America in the Magnoliaceae. In both the species, the leaves are deeply and acutely lobed forming squared-off ends. The large green and orange bell-shaped flowers are produced in June. Most years the foliage turns this attractive ginger-brown. The tree stands stooling well, which is how I maintain it in my garden (pictured), where a large fast-growing tree would be inappropriate.

Liriodendron tulipifera. Autumn foliage close. Hexham, UK.

Liriodendron chinensis is the other species, showing again the China/E USA disjunction typical of many ancient groups of trees. It differs by smaller leaves of a subtly different shape. Kew, UK.

Magnolia acuminata. Cucumber Tree. This native of eastern north America forms a huge spreading tree which can colour well in autumn. Most magnolias colour to yellow or burnt umber tints in autumn. The flowers are poor but the large cucumber-shaped fruits impressive. Kew, UK.

Magnolia x kewensis 'Wada's memory'.Kew, UK. Many of species of magnolia are grown at Kew, so that the parentage of this fine small tree is not certain.

Magnolia fruits are fascinating, and although they do not make a great display, they can form the main interest in autumn. M. sargentiana v robusta, Plas Newydd, Anglesey.

In keeping with their very primitive status, the capsules of magnolias often fail to close fully, so that the seeds are borne semi-naked. M. sargentiana v robusta.

Magnolia sieboldii. Holker Hall, Cumbria. This excellent small tree is from Japan, but is closely allied to the Chinese M. wilsonii.

Magnolia sieboldii foliage close.