The Female Ginkgo Tree’s Acrid Smell of Success

N.Y. / Region | N.Y.C. Nature Ginkgo

The Female Ginkgo Tree’s Acrid Smell of Success

By DAVE TAFTOCT. 29, 2015


Credit Susan Sermoneta

Simply stated, female ginkgos stink. This is not a sexist remark if you’re addressing a dioecious tree — simplified, a tree that grows either male or female flowers on separate plants. The male ginkgo bears no fruit, but those of the female are uniquely malodorous. They have been likened to vegetal vomit (the acrid scent attributable to butyric acid in the soft outer parts of the fruit), and though hard to appreciate, it imparts some adaptive value to the ginkgo fruit — attracting or discouraging interest.

Near the corner of Avenue U and 23rd Street, not far from where I grew up in Brooklyn, a female ginkgo tree was planted where a male tree was undoubtedly intended. The sheer abundance of this tree’s fruits each autumn required herculean feats just to walk past. Holding my breath, I’d sprint by the tree and the dozens of rank yellow fruits that lay like stink bombs all around it. My first encounter with the ginkgo was while running an errand to my parent’s preferred Chinese laundry, located around the corner. Having passed the stench, I opened the shop’s door only to find an overflowing bag of the horrid little fruits on the counter — the owner still beaming with delight at this locavore bumper crop. Read more.