What rhymes with ginkgo? For people in many American cities, the word
The ginkgo tree has a long history, dating back to the Permian era
which lasted from 290 to 248 million years ago. As you might guess
from that statistic, the ginkgo is recognized for its remarkable
hardiness, able to overcome extraordinary adversity. Legend has it
that ginkgo trees survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
That hardiness is an asset prized both by private landowners and civic
planners. What could be better than a row of trees with attractive
foliage that are also exceptionally hardy?
There is one major drawback, at least in the eyes (and noses) of many
people. The ginkgo is one of those trees that is gender specific: they
are either male or female. Mature female ginkgoes produce ovules which
when fertilized by pollen from the male tree grow into bunches of
seeds that look like fuzzy green cherries.
Now here’s the problem, at least from a human point of view. The
fleshy coating around the seeds contains butyric acid, the same stuff
that gives that distinctive smell to rancid butter. In addition to the
rancid butter smell, many people complain that the odor reminds them
of vomit, rotten eggs or even doggy-doo.
Not everybody finds the odor offensive. Depending on your olfactory
sensibility, you might feel that the smell is really awful or not too
bad or just one of those “nature smells.”
But the seasonal smell isn’t the only potential problem. The slimy
seed pods can make sidewalks slippery and some municipalities are
concerned about the possibility of lawsuits resulting from injuries
caused by slipping and falling on pods dropped from city-owned
As a result, many cities are deciding to plant only male ginkgo trees
and/or removing and destroying existing female ginkgoes. Cities as
widespread as Lexington, KY, Bloomington, MN and Easton, PA have taken
action to limit or remove ginkgoes.
To me, it seems a great pity to destroy trees because some people find
the odor offensive for a few weeks each year. At the same time I can
appreciate the problem faced by a city that wants to avoid injury to
citizens and the subsequent lawsuits.
Should you plant ginkgo trees on your property? That depends! If you
don’t mind the odor or if the trees are a fair distance from your
house, the smell issue (and probably the slippery sidewalk issue)
shouldn’t be a major problem. Alternatively, you can plant only male
ginkgo trees. Ginkgoes are very hardy, long-lived and attractive so
there definitely are benefits.
But what if you really want trees and shrubs that are pleasantly
fragrant? What could you look for? Here are some you can consider:
MOCK ORANGE PHILADELPHUS INNOCENCE X. LEMOINEI
This is perhaps the most fragrant of the Mock Oranges. Cheryl and I
love to inhale the sumptuously intoxicating orange sweetness given up
by Mock Orange Philadelphus Innocence's, pure white blossoms. This
variety grows to 5 – 8 feet at maturity in USDA zones 5 to 8.
OLD FASHION LILAC, SYRINGA VULGARIS
Old Fashion Lilac is perhaps the most popular of all lilacs due to its
rich color ranging from purplish red to lilac and purple. Old Fashion
Lilac has extremely fragrant with a broad, rounded habit. It is a
moderate growing shrub with attractive dark green foliage. It is great
for hedges, or screens, and can also be planted as a specimen plant,
growing to maybe 20 feet in zones 3 to 7.
CAROLINA JESSAMINE GELSEMIUM SEMPERVIRENS
A fragrant, early-blooming perennial, the yellow Carolina Jessamine is
an attractive semi-evergreen vine that tends to remain bushy and
compact when grown in bright sun. When shaded, Jessamine Carolina can
climb up and over adjacent shrubs and trees to heights of more than 20
feet. Carolina Jessamine will rapidly cover arbors, tree trunks,
trellises, etc. in a season or two. Zones 8 – 10.
And of course there’s honeysuckle and fragrant, low-growing plants
such as lavender and rosemary that produce delightful aromas.
So go for ginkoes if you can shrug off the stinko, or select more
fragrant plants that bring a smile to your nose.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to email@example.com and for resources and
additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org