While intrigued by the cool fan shaped leaves and the height of these great trees, they all acknowledged the same fact..."These trees STINK!", and avoided them like the plague.
"It smells like puke over here!", "Peeew!" and "UGH! What is THAT smell?" were shouted as the treasure hunters passed the ginkgoes.
The short, 4 year old friendly, answer is "The smell comes from the seeds of the ginkgo tree. They have a strong smell don't they? (smile)"
These seeds, affectionately called "stink balls" or "puke balls", are not only scattered outside the Education Center, put also across a staff parking lot in the park. I have to laugh as I look out my window and see that NO cars are parked in the three spots nearest the ginkgo tree. It only takes driving over the seeds once, and getting them stuck in your tire treads- or heaven forbid, stepping on them- and driving home with the smell of vomit in your car to realize you shouldn't park near the tree in October!
BUT, each fall, I also observe park visitors gathering up these horridly stinky seeds! WHY??!! I couldn't image why anyone would want a bag full of stink, so I did some investigation. Knowledge is power.
Ginkgo seeds contain butanoic acid (also known as butyric acid) which is also found in butter, Parmesan cheese and well...puke. Who's hungry! :} The smell really lets loose once the seeds have fallen...and especially when they have been run over by novice parkers.
Okay...so now we know why they smell. WHY do people want them??
The seeds are actually a traditional Chinese food. (Ginkgo is the national tree of China!) Ginkgo nuts (the hard part inside the stinky seed coat) are used in many dishes, and are often served at special occasions. In Chinese culture, they are believed to have health benefits, and even aphrodisiac qualities. (ugh.) The fleshly seed coat is not recommended for eating due to ginkgotoxins which can cause seizures. Yikes!
I know I had heard of ginkgo being used as a memory enhancer- you've seen those ginkgo biloba pills in health food stores etc right? Well, those attributes mainly come from extracts from the LEAVES- not the seeds. There is a LOT of info out there about ginkgoes being used for medicinal purposes, so I have included this
So, stinky story short....yep, it DOES smell like puke by this tree. But, stand upwind and just appreciate the tree for it's natural beauty. And, if you are so inclined, pull on some gloves (please), pick up a few seeds and explore them yourself.