Ginkgo trees could be the reason your neighborhood smells bad

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has begun spraying on the streets of D.C. this past week to reduce the development of a specific odor from one of the most common organisms in the District: the ginkgo tree.

Ginkgo biloba tree. Bergamo. Lombardy. Italy. (Photo by: Bluered/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Gingko / Maidenhair tree, Gingko biloba. (Photo by FlowerPhotos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

DDOT says the purpose of the spraying is to "reduce the formation of mature ginkgo fruit, which emits an offensive smell when it falls on sidewalks and roadways." The smell has been described by residents as "vomit-like" and DDOT has sprayed the trees for decades to reduce the chance of odor filling the streets.

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Ginkgo trees are the fifth most common genus in the city with just over 4,300 found within D.C. They even outnumber the number of iconic cherry trees in the District.

The smell comes from the female ginkgo tree's fruit and the butyric acid in the skin of the seed, which is the same chemical found in rancid butter.

DDOT treats the female ginkgo trees each year with a spray called Shield-3EC 24(C) that the city has been using for the past 20 years.

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Spraying begun in Ward 5 on Monday and DDOT will proceed to Wards 4, 3, 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8. The spraying will take place for several nights, but there is no need to move any cars or other vehicles. 

Map of all the female ginkgo trees in the D.C. area.

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To see a map of all the female ginkgo trees and for more information on them, click here.