When you smell something bad on campus and the air is amiss, you usually just assume that some people aren’t down with hygiene or that it’s sewage smog spewing out of a manhole. But for once, you can’t blame either. This time of year, a tree is the culprit. This malodorous tree is known as Ginkgo biloba, or the maidenhair tree.
Originating from China 150 million years ago, Ginkgos can grow about 80 feet tall and are distinguished by fan-shaped leaves that have inspired the hairstyles of sumo wrestlers. They produce great shade on hot days and have a dwarf, male-clone called the “Chi-chi” which translates as “nipple” in Chinese. But most importantly, it reeks.
Or rather, its orange, oval fruit – that ripens and falls to the ground – does. And that only applies to the female trees.
These trees are scattered about Main Campus. They’re on Berks Street between Gladfelter and Anderson halls, and they line the walkway leading to SEPTA’s Temple University Station, between 9th and 10th streets. They can also be found around Ritter Hall to Broad Street, which makes for a disagreeable fate for commuters during certain months.
“They stink,” said sophomore biology major Margarite Shubinsky.
“I think the Ginkgo trees put out a horrible odor,” said Seth Skversky, a sophomore law and business double major. “It reminds me of the smell of Philadelphia: a horrible odor that makes me love my suburban life.”
While some are disgusted by the stench, others aren’t even aware of the tree or its effects.
“I thought it was just the people,” said Danni Shtraus, freshman Asian Studies major. Regardless of who does and doesn’t know the basic facts of the tree’s genus and subkingdom, what raises most curiosity is why anyone would plant trees that produce vomit-smelling fruits and could induce it, too.
“It’s to reduce crime around the campus … keeps the people away,” said junior risk management major Eugene Eychis. This could be the reason, but the chances are slim because these trees weren’t planted
with intent to nauseate the general public.
“If you grow the plant from seed, it takes 20 years or more to find out if it is male or female,” said Dr. Elizabeth A. Sluzis, associate professor of horticulture at Ambler Campus.
“The female tree does produce fruit that smells like vomit as it ripens. If the trees are older, chances are they were planted as seedlings of unknown sex. Thus, when the female trees started producing their stinky fruit, the trees were in place for quite a while.”
So Temple wasn’t chosen to harbor the wrath of the Gingkos, but instead, these trees were planted on the campus for beneficial reasons.
“The tree was first introduced to Philadelphia in 1784,” said Dr. Jun Yang, assistant professor of horticulture. “Ginkgo biloba is a perfect urban tree. It has very few pests and diseases. [The] Ginkgo tree also tolerates compacted soil. All these features make it a perfect tree for city.” There is also a remedy for the smell, so there’s no need to abandon all hope.
If there are very few female trees, they can be replaced with male trees. There is also the option of cutting down the male trees if they are near any female trees. For as the birds and bees would have it, the female trees need the males’ pollen to produce any kind of fruit.
“A more labor-intensive solution is to spray female trees with ethylene-generating chemicals, such as ethephone, during spring. It can stop the development of fruits,” Yang said. “The Ginkgos are also of great aesthetic and medicinal value and its seeds are also used to prepare several Chinese cuisines.”
So even though the Ginkgos are sometimes
referred to as evil, offensive and disgusting in horticultural literature, these trees don’t stink that much – metaphorically speaking. And if it is a huge problem for students, the Ginkgos have a life span of 1,000 to 3,500 years and since they were here first, invest in gas masks if necessary.
Jessica Bautista can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.