What’s that smell?

After walking across campus last semester, a stench arose from the bottom of Morgan Diemunsch’s white Converse shoes and filled the long row of seats she sat in during her criminology 153 class.

“It literally smelled like dog crap,” junior Diemunsch said. “I thought I stepped in dog crap somewhere.”

Little did she know, Diemunsch had walked under a female ginkgo biloba tree on campus and crushed its white seeds into the bottom of her Converse shoes.

The female ginkgo biloba trees on Fresno State’s grounds have earned themselves a smelly reputation, but because of their benefits to the academic community, they are defended as being worth their smell.

“It’s the tree you love to hate because it smells so bad,” botany professor John Constable said. “But it has medical benefits and it is biologically interesting.”

The butyric acid in the integument of the seed, grown only by the female trees, is what produces the overpowering odor, and it is the same chemical compound that gives rancid butter its horrible smell. Luckily for students, Ryan McCaughey, grounds manager for Fresno State, said that the ginkgo trees are dormant now but will produce seeds again in the fall around September and October.

Known to smell like feces or rancid butter, it is easy to question why the trees were selected to be planted on Fresno State’s grounds.

“It’s a specimen tree,” McCaughey said.

The ginkgo trees serve as an example to students because it shows them the disadvantages to planting a female ginkgo biloba tree in one’s own garden.

Well-known not only for their distinct fan shaped leaves, the female gingko trees are infamous for their unique seeds that are actually used as a food source in Asia.

On campus though, it’s the smell of these rotting seeds that makes the tree so unique.

“When the [ginkgos] were planted nobody knew if they were female or male,” McCaughey, who has been grounds manager for two years, said.“It’s one those trees that takes a while to show if they are male or female.”

Although the female ginkgo smell may not have been anticipated when the trees were planted, McCaughey and Constable both agree the trees should remain on campus.

“Why the gardeners decided to plant a female ginkgo right by a walkway is beyond my comprehension,” Constable said. “But they are botanically interesting.”

McCaughey heads all Fresno State employees that maintain everything from the trees, grass, and shrubs on campus to Fresno State’s stadiums and athletic fields. He has never heard of anyone calling in to complain about the smell, and said some people actually like the trees, and even come to Fresno State to collect the seeds to eat.

“I can’t believe people eat those things,” Diemunsch said. “I know they’re good for memory, but they smell disgusting and I think the bottom of my shoes still smell a little bit.”

Ginkgos are the only species in their genus, and they are resistant to pollution and pests, making them a popularly planted tree in cities.

Constable said that ginkgos have earned a reputation in botany circles “largely because they are sort of like a fossil.”

McCaughey said that some of the ginkgo trees on campus are up to 20 to 30 years old.

“I wouldn’t have as many or have them where they are,” McCaughey said of the female ginkgo trees planted on Fresno State’s grounds. “But I would keep them because this is a learning institution.”

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