Stinkin’ Ginkgo: Beauty, Brains, …and Odor

It was New York in the fall, colorful leaves beginning to drift down to the sidewalks. We had just walked under the gingko tree outside my friend’s Brooklyn row house. It was like the scene in the movie “Clue,” when Mrs. White enters the manse, sniffs the air, and, as her host Wadsworth had been tracking dog poo around on his shoes, she checks her own. I sniffed my friends’ apartment, grabbed the handrail of the stairs, and carefully lifted a boot.  The smell wafted upwards, the smushed ginkgo seed pods clung to my sole, and reeeeeeked.

Why, then, would you plant a ginkgo? According to the elegantly entitled HuffPo article “Ginkgo Trees that ‘Smell like Vomit,’” “unlike most tree species common in the U.S., the ginkgo is dioecious, meaning trees are male or female. Female ginkgoes produce the troublesome seeds, which are covered in a fleshy coating that contains butyric acid, also found in rancid butter.”

You might be wondering, why would I plant a “rancid butter” tree in my backyard? Because you could plant it along your NEIGHBOR’S fence, in honor of their dog that won’t stop barking!

NYC gingko and row house

I KID!  But ginkgos are gorgeous, and the stench only lasts so long in the fall season, whereas the tree itself is a living fossil which dates back over 270 million years ago. Native to China, the tree is so hardy it withstands smog and atomic bombs:  Four ginkgo trees withstood the atomic bombs in Hiroshima, Japan, and still stand today.  You’ve got to give this tree props, and possibly a place in your yard.  If you can’t stand the smell, plant the male, as the city of Santa Monica has done.  But if you can handle a little stinkin’ nature, the female tree is truly beautiful. has some helpful tips for choosing where to plant your Ginkgo. As they grow over 100 feet, it’s wise to consider where you’ll want this ancient tree to set down its roots. Don’t count it out if you don’t have a yard: Big Plant Nursery notes that they do very well in a pot or container.


What do you think? Will you take a chance on a ginkgo?  Tell us, or share photos with us on Twitter: @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.

(Photo credit: Ginkgo & row house by Rebecca Snavely, yellow fall ginkgo by John Hagan.)