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Why Do Ginkgo Trees Smell Like…?

"ginkgo"

The city cut down seven mature female Ginkgo trees in fall 2009 on the 1500-block of Corcoran Street NW. (Luis Gomez Photos)

The following article originally ran December 14, 2008. With the arrival of fall¬†‚ÄĒ and the unsavory smell of the falling fruit of Ginkgo trees hitting local sidewalks, we thought it was a good time post the article again.

Update from October 10, 2009: I was looking at the site stats and noticed that this post from December 14, 2008, had gotten a lot of hits today. I guess the Ginkgo trees are smelling like dog poo lately… and the berries are certainly falling on the Corcoran Street sidewalks. So… here you go: Here is why Ginkgo tree berries smell like dog poo.¬†

I have never been able to figure out two things:

  1. Why would anyone would plant Ginkgo trees in a city, especially in neighborhoods with a high volume of pedestrian sidewalk traffic? Yes, I am thinking of the 1500-block of Corcoran Street NW¬†‚ÄĒ see¬†Corcoran Street: Down Go the¬†Ginkgos.
  2. What makes Ginkgo tree fruit smell like dog poop?

The second question has been answered. I would love to hear from readers as to the “why” in question number one. It is worth noting that the smell and mess from the falling fruit is so bad that the DC government sprays the female trees in the spring to “to prevent the notoriously unpleasant odor of the popular ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) from overtaking city streets.”

From The Washington Post, December 13, 2008:

The bouquet of a ginkgo tree’s fruit has strong notes of unwashed feet and Diaper Genie, with noticeable hints of spoiled butter.¬†For the District government this winter, it is the smell of defeat.¬†This year, arborists working for the city tried a new solution for the stinky fruit, which has plagued residents for decades. They injected more than 1,000 ginkgo biloba trees with a chemical to stop them from producing the fruit.¬†Whoops.¬†The chemical didn’t work, for reasons that scientists still don’t understand. Now, instead of less ginkgo stink, Washington has its worst case in years ‚ÄĒ¬†a bumper crop of nastiness that is studding sidewalks and sliming dress shoes from¬†Capitol Hill to Kalorama.¬†Read entire Post story.

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2 Responses to “Why Do Ginkgo Trees Smell Like…?”

  1. DCircler says:

    I lived on Corcoran many years ago (and still live near it). It’s one of the few streets where I still smell these. I thought the city sprayed them annually to keep this from happening?

  2. M says:

    To answer question 1, they were planted because they are resistant to the negative effects of pollution and road salt, both of which are common in the city. Thus, they are perfectly suited for the urban environment (if you can ignore the smell). They are originally from China and were introduced to North American cities for this reason. These trees are actually quite beautiful (again, if you can ignore the smell).

    Personally, I think they smell like a restaurant dumpster in August, perhaps with hints of baby poo and vomit.

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