Thursday, November 18, 2010

Autumn Leaves Fall and Get Caught In My Hair

The fall can be hazardous for a hairy dog like me. There are just so many damn leaves. And most of them get stuck in my long coat. And, yeah, you're right most of them are pretty easy for my dad to get out. But I do end up dragging a few in the house each time I go out . The bain of my (and, I believe, my dad's) existence is the taxodium. Taxodium distichum, commonly known as Bald Cypress or Swamp Cyprus, is a species of conifer native to the United States. The leaves are borne on deciduous branchlets that are spirally arranged on the stem but twisted at the base to lie in two horizontal ranks. Which, let me translate, means they are much like barbed wire. Unlike most other species in the family, the Bald Cypress is deciduous, losing its leaves in the fall, hence the name 'bald'. So right about now it seems they are all over every sidewalk in this damn town. Which means every time we go out they get completely entwined in our coats. And are a royal pain to get out.

My dad is a landscape architect so he is prone to curbside criticism of, say, people's choices of shrubs or the placement of pagodas or what not. I think... no... I know I have heard him curse urban planners who select taxodiums to line sidewalks and other places where people with Tibetan Terriers are sure to pass. Could they not know the deleterious effects of these messy conifers?

And just what are these urban planners thinking when they plant female ginkgo trees along urban pathways. Yes, there are female and there are male ginkgos. The female ginkgo produces berries, quite large berries, that drop on the sidewalks where we tread. These berries are some of the nastiest things you are ever going to come across this side of a rain forest. They have a putrid smell, not at all unlike vomit, that gets stuck in our paws and on dad's shoes. Dad is not at all amused. But I recently read this odor threatens the future of the world's oldest tree species in American cities.

As The Ohio State University Department of Horticulture and Crop Science succinctly says in regard to Ginkgo's liabilities, "Female trees have copious fruits that are quite messy upon abscising into pedestrian areas, and are very malodorous." I read somewhere that when they start to fall in November, the fruit is imbued with butyric acid, a chemical found in rancid butter.

So, every fall, the tree's berries tumble onto streets, sidewalks, and yards and result in an extremely noxious smell. The stench is often likened to vomit, dog feces, or body odor, but each person has his or her own way of experiencing and describing the olfactory affront of Ginkgo fruit.

In the winter of 2008, Washington D.C. was plagued with a particularly terrible "Stink Berry" season. The annual complaints by residents and pedestrians caused the capital to experiment with injecting more than 1,000 Ginkgo trees with a chemical that would keep them from producing fruit. For some reason, the plan backfired and the trees instead produced more fruit than usual that year.

The Huffington Post reported in 2009 that some cities like Bloomington, Lexington, and Iowa City have even banned female Ginkgo trees due to the smelly fruits. Other cities like Santa Monica and Boston are merely switching the fruit-bearing females for male Ginkgo. There does not appear to be a ban in our town.

If, like me. you don't live in a city with a Ginkgo tree policy, my best advice is to try and not walk in areas that contain many Ginkgo trees in the fall season, when the fruit is at its most rank on the sidewalk. If offending trees are near your residence, it is prudent to gather the fruit as soon as it falls and dispose of it before countless feet stomp it into the pavement, which can lead to months long funk in the neighborhood. Technically, the fruit is edible, but turning these stinky berries into pies is not advisable.