How Could Something So Pretty Smell So Bad?

And I don`t mean my smelly brood.

I`m referring to one of the World`s Great Mysteries. Not as famous as Crop Circles, the building of the pyramids or the disappearance of the Mayans, but equally mysterious.

Just how is it that these beautiful and majestic Ginkgo trees can smell so bad? One trot through a Ginkgo row and you`ll rival Usain Bolt in a sprint for an escape route. Noxious, nauseating, nefarious- all perfect descriptors of this suffocating stank.

To further the mystery, once the funk reaches a peak and the berries drop to the ground, people clamor to pick the fallen fetid fruits in order to remove the nut inside. Which somehow is then eaten. The first person to discover and eat this nut must have been one hungry hombre. Or Bear Grylls.

When I was in college, there was a lone ginkgo tree outside the Biology building beside the door. One required true dedication to attending class as entering the building during stink season not only meant walking though the stench to get in, but getting whiffs of it through out class. Because of my four years of scent sensitivity training in college, I was able to take these pictures.


Just like the cockroach and the crocodile, the Ginkgo is a living fossil. Resistant to disease and containing insect repelling enzymes, this tree claims to have specimens up to 2,500 years old. One sniff in that direction and you too will understand why bugs won`t even set up shop in the bark. According to Wikipedia the smell is similar to “vomit or rotten milk.” Others describe it simply as “butt.” Perhaps these creative- and accurate- descriptions can help you understand without resorting to scratch and sniff technology just how putrid these trees can be.

I just wonder why no one ever takes an axe to these specimens.


These poor school kids. Forced to pick the leaves.Where are child labor laws preventing this abuse?


At least a few of them are wearing masks. This poor little guy is so discombobulated he has his chin strap attached to his nose.


Is this the Japanese secret to academic success? Using these ginkgo leaves for their reputed memory enhancing properties thereby creating a SAT super student?



I guess beauty really can hide a multitude of sins. In this case anyway.

These trees are truly breathtaking- in every  scents of the word.

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41 Responses to How Could Something So Pretty Smell So Bad?

  1. Spouse says:

    Good one
    The pictures showed up perfectly on my iPAD
    Just about to depart …

    Sent from my iPad


  2. WHAT? Spouse?
    Miss you. Have a great trip.


  3. Tori Nelson says:

    I might need a shower because I started getting all defensive reading about all the stink and was about to comment “LAY OFF ME. I’m using new soap, jerks” 🙂


  4. “I just wonder why no one ever takes an axe to these specimens.”

    A stink a day keeps the axman away !


  5. Gorgeous pictures. I especially like the one of your boots and the leaves.
    We have two gingko trees we planted about 16 years ago. They were probably 5 years old when we got them. They grow very slowly. I haven’t noticed any berries but then they are in the back part of our property. I just think they are pretty. Something for me to look forward to???


    • There are male and female trees. One is the stinker. You must have two of the sex that don`t. More information than you ever wanted neh?


      • The female one is the one that drops all those messy fruit and stinks. My father, a veteran gardener, says you should only plant the male trees because the female ones will make your yard unbearable to walk in. That said, he loves to eat the nuts. He also likes snacking on those tiny dried fish and pickled daikon, the smell of which drives me out of the room.


  6. Lu says:

    They are definitely beautiful trees, but I don’t think I’ll get one for the garden, after all…


  7. Can I get an Amen?!? We have a few of these trees on my block and I can attest to the horrible, horrible smell from the berries or whatever it is that blooms in the fall. Noxious. Fetid. Gross. Reggie won’t even go near the tree to pee on it.

    And just the other day I saw two Asian women wearing gloves collecting the berries from the ground and putting them in plastic bags. *shudder*


  8. paulshistoryofwar says:

    I can imagine the stink if it is anything like a fruit called the Durian. How does the Guinko help ones memory? Stuffing your pillow with the leaves could do it I suppose. They are rather spectacular looking trees, though. Keep up the good work Emily.


    • Thanks Paul! You are so sweet and so encouraging. I really appreciate your comment.
      And I`ve had the pleasure of the durian experience. That is another good example of someone who must have been starving to try it.


  9. jimmydevious says:

    The first person to discover and eat this nut must have been one hungry hombre. Or Bear Grylls.

    Noope. He didn’t have to kill anything first. UNLESS…he was about to bite the head off a poor little LIZARD who already had it in its mouth, or he tripped on one of those nuts whilst absailing into God-knows-where while needlessly shirtles-

    Errr….sorry. I think too much. 😉 lol

    But I DO enjoy reading your blog. 🙂


  10. there is a beautiful – and famous – gingko tree in our town that is lit up with gorgeous leaves in Fall. It is the most photographed – had no idea they smelled bad!


  11. Love your photos! I wonder if the “Eastern nose” is as sensitive as the “Western nose”. I’m thinking of Durian and things like fish sauce.


  12. Ugh. I lived on a street that had a couple of Ginko trees, and that smell… blarg. I always thought it smelled like dog poop, my neighbor said it smelled like a man’s crotch after a week without bathing. Either way, nasty.


  13. This is hilarious! And I Adore your Awesome Alliteration!


  14. Dana says:

    Never seen (or smelled) a gingko tree before. From the sounds of it, I don’t need to add the experience to my Bucket List. Besides, I already have to smell entire city blocks covered in chicken manure all year round. Curse Victoria’s year-round gardening season!! Chicken manure is NASTY.


  15. breinoelle says:

    Awesome post! Looking forward to reading more of your blog. Thanks for the follow 🙂


  16. Piper Bayard says:

    They are so beautiful! I never would have guessed they smell so bad. Thanks for the pics, Emily.


  17. I am friends with your sister Susan and told me about this blog. Pretty good stuff!


  18. Actually sorry I think she is your Sister in law.


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  20. J Holmes says:

    Amazing how badly something so pretty can smell. Another botanical example is the Carrion plant. It’s odor is worse than that of the Ginkgo tree whenever it has a flower in bloom. The flower is huge and very interesting looking. Rather than repel insects it attracts (and in some cases) kills insects as a source of fertilizer.


  21. NyNy says:

    Such beautiful pictures!! ^^ The kids look adorable!


  22. Michi says:

    I brewed dried gingko leaves for tea last year, and would use it in some recipes, but I guess the dried version doesn’t smell so bad (though it does taste slightly bitter).

    Those Japanese school kids are the cutest!!!! I’m going to go adopt one.


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