Stinky Ginkgo Tree Blight to Brooklyn College Students

Gingko seeds litter the ground around Whitehead Hall; when trod upon, they emit a foul odor that peeves BC students. / Brian Moreno

For Suman Afzal, it’s worth it to walk around the Ginkgo tree instead of going straight through. She’ll do anything to avoid the smelly tree near the entrance of Whitehead Hall.

“The tree smells like vomit, urine and fecal matter,” said Afzal, a junior.  “It needs to be replaced with orchids or blossoms.”

There are four Ginkgo trees on campus — the female trees, however, emit a fetid odor in the fall. The Ginkgo tree, which originates in China thrives in urban areas like Brooklyn College because it grows relatively fast, it’s not an invasive species and its roots are not likely to break pipes, according to experts.

“You get a very pretty tree, very quickly with low maintenance,” said biology professor Anna Petrovicheva.

The Ginkgo biloba, also known as the ginkgo or maidenhair tree, is one of the oldest species of trees in the world. The trees have survived the atomic bombs in Japan and easily endure coastal cyclones without being damaged. When female ginkgo trees ovulate, the seeds’ coat is covered with butyric acid, a chemical that smells like vomit.

“The scent is let out when the fruit coating ripens,” Petrovicheva said. “You notice it if that coat breaks, especially when you step on it.”

Petrovicheva added, “The seeds ripen and fall around mid-September to early November, but can be a little earlier or later depending on the temperature. It’s a little on the late side this year as it’s been a very warm October.”

Though the Ginkgo tree is outside, the students track the smelly pods to their classes.

“The smell followed me all the way to class,” said Bobby Molinari, a junior, who was unaware of rancid berries stuck to his shoe. “It smelled like rotten milk and [urine].”

Molinari added, “They need to remove this tree or at least sweep up the berries daily.”

In a statement to the Kingsman Principal Park Supervisor, Steve Alliano said the tree will not be removed.

“Well, I can’t speak on behalf of the college, but I don’t think it is wise to remove the tree that has been there for 75 years. This is the first time there have been any major complaints about it,” Alliano said. “It’s been happening since the tree was put there. There is really nothing else we can do about that accept just clean them as the berries hit the floor.”

Keila Ortiz, a junior, agrees that the tree’s odor is off-putting.

“It smells like rotten cheese or poop. Thank God I didn’t eat anything or I would have [vomited],” Ortiz said.

While some people find the scent of the tree repulsive, the ginkgo tree has its merits.

“They are convenient, fast-growing and easy to care of for [a] tree. It doesn’t produce as many leaves as other trees so it’s easy to clean up,” Petrovicheva said. “They also tolerate solution well so can survive in cities better than some other trees and their resistance to insects makes them low maintenance as well.”

While Gavhar Hushvaktova said the tree reeks of “puke” and “garbage,” she said there is a home for it at Brooklyn College.

“It only happens once a year,” said Hushvaktova, a junior about the tree’s odor.  “I feel like [it’s here] because we need more oxygen and there [is] a tree for it.”

The gingko tree that plagues Brooklyn College with its stench. / Brian Moreno

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