Smelly tree, smelly tree, it's not your fault...
May 1, 2008 2:54 PM   Subscribe

What tree smells like semen or vagina?

This tree seems to be really popular around greater Boston. It has 5 white petals on each flower and the leaves look similar to this alternate drawing. The worst part is that while it's flowering, the tree smells like semen or vagina, depending on who you ask. What kind of tree is it? It's definitely not the Chinese chestnut.
posted by summit to Science & Nature (46 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: Your query disturbs and upsets me but perhaps they are Bradford Pears?
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:01 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know the word for this but I'm consistently amazed at the timely content here on askme. My coworkers and I were talking about this very subject on the walk to coffee this morning. Sorry I have no answer, but love the question.
posted by toomuch at 3:07 PM on May 1, 2008

Could you take a picture and link it, instead of trying to describe it according to bodily fluids?
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 3:07 PM on May 1, 2008

Don't feel bad. I was recently at a friends house and smelled semen all evening, finally realizing it was that damn tree. One of their housemates had taken a branch of the flowers and put them in a vase. They looked like the ones in the third picture from turgid dahlia's post.
posted by Sufi at 3:09 PM on May 1, 2008

Bradford pears are indeed common spooge trees.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:10 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ginkgo? The female gingko tree smells yucky.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:12 PM on May 1, 2008

I have a Bradford Pear in my front yard, its flowers are as you describe, as is the smell.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:12 PM on May 1, 2008

But those aren't the right leaves, so maybe not.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:12 PM on May 1, 2008

Bradford Pear porn.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:14 PM on May 1, 2008

Wow, timely is right. I'd been wondering similarly, since we have several very pretty white-flowering trees right nearby from which I'd noticed that exact bizarre odor, and they look a lot like the Bradford Pears from turgid dahlia's link. I love AskMe.
posted by Rallon at 3:14 PM on May 1, 2008

otherworldlyglow: There are four completely different types of leaf on that link so I don't know that it will be much help.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:16 PM on May 1, 2008

Two candidates are Ailanthus Altissima and also Elderberry, both have ammonia-like scented flowers redolent of semen.

Ailanthus has five petals and a whitish (but not pure white) color. Five petals on the flower are hard to see in the Wikipedia article's photo, but perhaps this one is better.
The Wikipedia article has a good close-up of Elderberry's flowers. Both to me have a distinctly semen smell, funny how both trees' flowers are described as "fetid" or "foul-smelling."

Both trees leaves are "compound" so are not equivalent to the "alternate" in your example, but it is easy to mistake compound leaves for alternate sometimes. Bradford pear's leaves are alternate, but the leaves themselves have smooth edges. Flowers are match your description though, but I never smelled semen, or much of anything on a Bradford pear though.

All three will be found growing abundantly around Boston.
posted by xetere at 3:16 PM on May 1, 2008

All of the streets in my neighborhood are lined with these. I sometimes dread Spring because of their scent. We all call them Cum Trees.
posted by rmless at 3:16 PM on May 1, 2008

posted by dilettante at 3:17 PM on May 1, 2008

And the Straight Dope on stinky trees.
posted by dilettante at 3:19 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

mimosa trees
posted by nomisxid at 3:37 PM on May 1, 2008

They had a similar reputation at UGA, where they were craftily planted near the meal hall of all places. I'm not sure why Bradfords get planted everywhere. They stink to high heaven, drop all manner of crap and split in half at the slightest breeze. They don't have alternating leaves, though, do they? I would check the one in our yard, but we had it yanked for all of the aforementioned reasons. Most especially the splitting.
posted by jquinby at 3:50 PM on May 1, 2008

yes, these are called the Cum Trees on the USC campus.
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:57 PM on May 1, 2008

Oh, man, I'm glad I'm not the only one that is grossed out by the semen smell of those trees! They are everywhere in Kendall Square, where I work.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:58 PM on May 1, 2008

Heh. The Straight Dope link on the fabled sperm trees of Los Angeles is hilarious. When I first moved here, I couldn't figure out what the hell I kept smelling in my neighborhood in Los Feliz, though I always described it more like a pair of patchouli-wearing hippies having sex.
posted by scody at 4:15 PM on May 1, 2008

Ginkgo? The female gingko tree smells yucky.

I think you are thinking of the ginkgo fruits, 1) which would be all over the ground 2) smell like barf, not spooge.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:20 PM on May 1, 2008

If the answer is ginkgo, someone needs to get to the doctor, stat.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:25 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

There's a tree on campus that smells like ass, its name is "pyrus calleryana". It had white flowers before the leaves popped out, I didn't pay attention how many petals it had.
posted by sixcolors at 4:25 PM on May 1, 2008

We used to have a tree that smelled like semen in front of our old apartment building, one of the little kids who lived on a lower floor heard the colloquial term used to describe the smell. Thanks to that kid, no matter what the official title it's always going to be a "Gum tree" to me.
posted by jade east at 4:45 PM on May 1, 2008

I knew you were talking about Bradford pears as soon as I read your post. But when I had my first experience with them, I thought they smelled like menstrual blood.
posted by Coatlicue at 5:34 PM on May 1, 2008

My run takes me past rows and rows of these stupid things, all around Tufts campus - they're beautiful, but awful smelling...
posted by soplerfo at 5:35 PM on May 1, 2008

Is it the country? (runs, hides)
posted by hexatron at 5:35 PM on May 1, 2008

Ginkos have been around since the dinosaur age (see the wikipedia link). So obviously Ginko fruit was tasty for dinosaurs. Makes one think: humans dislike the smell because we evolved to stay away from the plants where all the dinosaurs were hanging out, for safety reasons. Possible explanation for the natural question "Why do these trees sink?" To test it, you might want to see if all mammals dislike the smell, and if reptiles and birds are fond of it. FWIW
posted by proj08 at 5:36 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Semen and vagina do not smell alike. To me, Bradford Pears smell more like lobster bisque.
posted by farmdoggie at 5:48 PM on May 1, 2008

Well I don't know about Bradford pears, but I have a mountain ash right outside my door that smells exactly like semen when it flowers. So I guess there's more than one. Yay.
posted by Enroute at 6:03 PM on May 1, 2008

If you go on a bike ride in early summer in New England, you'll be blasted with this smell about once every half hour. It's not just any smell. It has such a primal reek that it's kind of fascinating. Some people don't notice it though, or at least don't detect the full spectrum of the aroma, and give you blank looks when you mention it. I'm glad someone understands.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 6:22 PM on May 1, 2008

As disturbing as turgid_dahlia finds this query, it has actually been discussed here before. Check out this derail and read down (the actual question is not at all about semen scented trees).
posted by necessitas at 6:31 PM on May 1, 2008

I know them as Manchurian pear trees. Or spooge tree. Gorgeous display of colour in autumn, but springtime ...
posted by Tixylix at 8:01 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

tulip poplars
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:45 PM on May 1, 2008

I hate those things. I think they smell like a combination of rotting fish and rubber, which hey, maybe that's how semen and vagina smell to you. I kinda don't see it, but then I smelled these trees before I smelled ether of those things.
posted by MadamM at 9:03 PM on May 1, 2008

Freaking jizz trees. I thought I got away from them when I moved out of SoCal but here they are in Palo Alto.
posted by crinklebat at 9:08 PM on May 1, 2008

We called them cum trees at UC Davis as well, and I recently had the uncomfortable experience of discussing the smell with my mom while in Pleasanton, CA, where they are all freaking over the place. Ah, Bradford Pears, the subject of so many delightfully uncomfortable conversations.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:33 PM on May 1, 2008

They're all over the Cornell campus too. I thought just me and my friend noticed it!
posted by peacheater at 9:46 PM on May 1, 2008

Jizz trees in NJ as well.
posted by tremspeed at 10:44 PM on May 1, 2008

There's something in the UK that smells like that too - we used to call it spunkweed when I was a kid. Never quite managed to pin down what it was, but I think it was more ground-level shrub than tree.
posted by bifter at 1:25 AM on May 2, 2008

Semen and vagina do not smell alike. To me, Bradford Pears smell more like lobster bisque.

You're making lobster bisque wrong.

Nthing that these are Bradford Pear Trees.
posted by rokusan at 5:11 AM on May 2, 2008

Ginkgos are indeed smelly, but it's dog poop they remind me of. Like, totally dog poop.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:58 AM on May 2, 2008

Well, at least once the flowers and their odor are gone, the fruit from these can fall all over my truck when I park in front of my house. So I have that going for me.
posted by genefinder at 10:01 AM on May 2, 2008

I've been wondering about this all week here at Penn State. It smells like semen everywhere.
posted by pete0r at 11:31 AM on May 2, 2008

OMG. I have been married for 5 years and if my husband's semen smelled like a Bradford Pear, I'd give him 24 hours to go see a doctor. If my vagina smelled like that, I'd douche with lysol.

In any case, the Bradford pear is only one of many varieties of Pyrus Calleryana, some of which smell better than others.

I had been planning on planting a row of them, since the smell had previously reminded me only of old fish, but now.... maybe not.
posted by GardenGal at 12:01 PM on May 2, 2008

I first encountered that tree when I was living in Atlanta and a buddy of mine called it a cum tree. For some reason I thought it was a Dogwood, but I could be mistaken.

Now I'm back in Boston and I'm surprised to smell the same damn tree up here.
posted by JMalcolmK at 6:16 PM on May 2, 2008

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