Pedestrians rarely stay longer than necessary on Hans-Sachs-Straße in Dresden, perhaps only to clear the small, round fruits of the Ginkgo Biloba tree from their cars.
“For a long time, I thought it was the massive amount of dog mess that smelled so rancid,” said resident Sebastian Süss. “However, when you take this fruit in your hand, you realise it’s actually the cause.”
The Dresden street is one of the few avenues in the state of Saxony lined with Ginkgo trees. Five years ago, the trees here were declared monuments of nature, because of “their rarity as street-lining trees,” small yellow signs read.
“In the wild, the Ginkgo trees from China are now almost extinct,” says Peter Schmidt, president of the German Dendrological Association. “One speaks of these trees as living fossils.”
But the irritated residents of Hans-Sachs-Straße are largely ignorant of the trees’ scientific importance.
“Why can’t there be normal chestnut trees?” one resident asked while cleaning the pungent foliage from the windshield of his car. “The stuff stinks to high heaven.”
Jörg Lange of the Dresden’s Office of Waste Management and City Cleaning says he understands the complaints, but can’t do anything but hold his nose too.
“These trees have been there since the 1920s,” he says. “The problem has been established and the residents should know by now.”
In addition, the Ginkgo seed is not as aggressive as the sticky syrup of the Lime tree. The pungent bile-like smell of butyric acid should be gone in a few months and people should remember that it is “naturally occurring,” Lange says, emphasising that residents are responsible for clearing their own sidewalks.
The fact that the Dresden Ginkgos cause such resentment is due to a small mistake.
“As a rule, only male Ginkgos were planted as street trees,” says Karin Schwabe of the Botanical Garden in Dresden. These trees do not distribute the stinky seeds. But on Hans-Sachs-Straße, the majority of trees are female. The mistake likely came about because the only sure way to determine the tree’s sex is by the blossom – which sometimes takes a few years. Even the few new plantings from 1998 and 2004 on Hans-Sachs-Straße may not necessarily be male, she said.
Despite its malodorous characteristic, the German Dendrological Association has named the Gingko the “tree of the millennium” and uses the Gingko’s distinctive leaf as its logo.
“Many cultures admire the Gingko as a symbol of long life, fertility and invincibility,” president Schmidt says, adding that it is also popular on temple grounds in China and Japan.
“Due to its hardiness and resistance to pests, the Gingko is the ideal tree for streets,” Schmidt says.
Unfortunately for the residents of Dresden’s smelliest street, Schmidt can do little for the residents hoping for better air quality. Ginkgo trees can live to be up to 1,000 years old.