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Why Do Ginkgo Tree Berries Smell Like Dog Poo?

by Borderstan.com October 10, 2009 at 10:48 pm 5,164 13 Comments

UPDATE: 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.

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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.)
  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 1.
From The Washington Post:

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 — a bumper crop of nastiness that is studding sidewalks and sliming dress shoes from Capitol Hill to Kalorama.

Read entire WaPo story

Comments (13)

  1. Gingko trees are very old in the scheme of evolution. They are planted in cities because they will live through pollution, drought, too much rain, etc. Usually the city sprays the trees in the spring to prevent the berries from forming. As is noted in the article, they tried something new that did not work. I only hope the city will revert to more tested methods in the future. I have also seen women gathering undamaged gingko berries under trees at Scott Circle. I assume they are using them for homeopathic remedies.

  2. Nick: Thanks! Very interesting.

  3. Don’t know about homeopathic remedies, but once you remove the fleshy part of the gingko fruit the nut makes a wonderful addition to your stir fry or a crunchy surprise in the stuffing for your roast chicken.

  4. ginkgo fruits are pretty much extremely posionous so eating them is probably not a great idea just saying.

  5. I avoid Corcoran this time of year. Last fall I accidentally squashed a ginko fruit under my heel before getting into my husband’s car. The poor man had to deal with the stench in his vehicle for weeks.

    Though ginkos are great trees for urban environments, you’d think DC could have planted males trees from one of the non-fruiting cultivars.

  6. The Ginkgo is a great tree except for the smelly fruit. The tree is very rugged and can survive without lots of attention or TLC. That is probably why there are so many around. I prefer the Princeton Sentry Gingko as they do not have the fruit.

  7. I always thing the smell is more vomit than poo. I had tenants who didn’t know about the ginko berries and thought that someone was throwing up regularly in front of their door. 🙂 But why they can’t just plant male trees is beyond me.

  8. That WaPo article is from last year when the arborists made a “mistake” resulting in 1000x more berries then ever before. This year, the berry production has been “normal”. They should be gone in the next 2 weeks at which point the trees will have changed to a remarkable golden hue.

  9. Just to answer “why don’t they plant males?” My understanding is that you cannot tell the sex of a juvenile gingko. The do not reveal their sex until they are several years old, and thus well-established and painful (and expensive) to remove. (We just had a female in our front yard show herself after almost 8 years and 50 feet of growth!)

  10. Hi I live in Vancouver BC and today I met 2 ladies picking up the berries they told me if baked they help with memory loss!! Does anyone know anything about this ??
    Aparently you should only eat 6 a day..

  11. well they have medicine that uses the ginkgo extract but im pretty sure its from the leaves and not the fruit since i said if you eat them they are poisonous

  12. I have a very old Ginkgo and never before have had the fruit. Maybe a few each year, but last year the tree produced hundreds of fruits. Why is this? Wisconsin

  13. I guess my tree is a male because it is approximately 30 years old and have never seen any seed pods or smelled anything..it is beautiful beyond words!!

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