American Chestnut Smells

October 2, 2008 at 1:52 am 13 comments

This past year, I’ve been in a continuous learning mode with the American Chestnut. With each month, it seems, I learn a little bit more. Sometimes through conversations, sometimes through American Chestnut Foundation events, or sometimes through the good ole Internet. I think no property of the tree demonstrates my increasing knowledge more aptly than the tree’s flowers… or rather, the smell of those flowers.

On May 31, I went up to Lesesne State Forest in Virginia to attend an American Chestnut Field Day. While I was there, one chestnut hunter shared how he searches for trees during flowering season.

“I just drive around with my windows rolled down and when I smell one, I stop.” he said.

So that prompted someone to ask, “What do they smell like?”

That was a perfect question to be fielded by Kathy Marmet, the VP of Education for the American Chestnut Foundation.

“They smell very… organic.” she said.

Fast forward to June 26th. When Tony and I were rollerblading in Radford we talked about chestnut flowers and I mentioned I heard they smelled “organic”.

“Oh yeah!” he agreed, “They smell like semen.”

He rattled off that last bit so matter-of-factly, like he was describing the sky being blue.

Early Flowers from an American-Chinese hybrid

It is now October and I’m continuing my education on the American Chestnut. I’m currently reading American Chestnut: The Life, Death and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree. Chapter 4 starts off with a discussion of the catkin flowers and says “A blossoming chestnut is beautiful, but the smell is not.” The book repeats Tony’s observation and then it shares an even more vivid description of what the odor is like:

a whorehouse on a hot summer’s day

I have yet to smell full blooming flowers for myself, but thanks to my ongoing studies, I think I have a very good idea what to expect.

Continuing education can certainly be effective. Here is a quick graph that shows how my perception has changed as I learned more on the subject.

Entry filed under: American Chestnut, Tony Airaghi, trees.

Project Runway and Nature! links for 2008-10-02

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. BA  |  October 2, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I having trouble interpreting your graph and am embarrassed to seek clarification.

    You could continue your education on the American chestnut by attending the TACF (The American Chestnut Foundation) Annual Meeting in Chattanooga. Chattanooga is close to Virginia isn’t it? I’m from east of the Hudson and have trouble with rural American geography (just kidding – I think it’s a hop-skip-jump down 81->40->75).

  • 2. geekhiker  |  October 2, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I’m soooo glad Web 30.0 isn’t here yet, or you’d probably be posting a copy of the smell file on the blog for all of us to experience…

  • 3. TGAW  |  October 2, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    @BA – I don’t think I’m going to be able to make the meeting in Chattanooga, BUT I will be going to the Virginia Chapter’s Annual Meeting in Roanoke next weekend (Oct 11th) which should be educational and great fun!

  • 4. ideonexus  |  October 2, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    @geekhiker – HAHAHAHAHA!!!! Awesome!

  • 5. Shannon  |  October 2, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Hmm…the graph? When you mean “talking” to them, do you really mean their breath?

  • 6. TGAW  |  October 2, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    Ugh. Maybe I shouldn’t make graphs at 3 AM EST anymore 🙂

  • 7. Anne  |  October 4, 2008 at 4:45 am

    I’ve been told that Bradford pears smell awful, even though they are so beautiful to look at. I have been by a lot of them on walks and have never noticed.

  • 8. Carolyn  |  October 4, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    ginkgos are supposed to smell bad too.

  • 9. Michele CALDWELL  |  December 17, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Hello I live in Mirboo North ,South Gippsland ,Victoria Australia.It’s summer and about 25- 33*C most days. The smell of the chestnut flowers is really unpleasent…like a weed that gives off an almost decaying smell to keep flower eating insects and parrots away .Works on me too. Been smelling it for about a week ,stumped as to the source until I thought “find that stink”. My husband could not smell it until I insisted he get it on his nose, then he says its fine.I can smell it about 4m away or further as the wind blows.His excuse is growing up at their Nursery in Knutsford UK where they grew them.
    I hope this means a good crop, our Cocker Spaniel loves them raw, even peeling them herself in front of the winter fire.

  • 10. Kriss Schaffer  |  June 1, 2018 at 10:02 am

    The Chestnuts are blooming in my neighborhood park. I have been intrigued for years by the smell – the “whorehouse in a hot summer day” fits the bill! They are very nice trees. But that smell is distinctive!!

  • 11. Michele Caldwell  |  June 1, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    I agree about the smell.My husband could not smell much at all ,this I think is an age related issue.
    A number of the chestnuts have gone mouldy this year .Perhaps it was my desire to get them all picked up off the ground even though there were a number that were still green .What is the best why of avoiding the loss?Our Cocker spaniel Bonnie loves them and covers the container by the fire.
    Your graph just shows that asking people about their experiences with any thing gives so much more knowledge than a book or paper.

    • 12. Jessica Hockett  |  June 9, 2018 at 8:58 pm

      My grandparents have a chestnut tree in their yard. It’s a running joke in my family that some can smell it and some can’t! Those who smell it say it’s a foul, wretched, indescribable odor. I’m one who does not smell it. It’s very bazaar. Regardless, I don’t think it’s age-related, but it would be an interesting experiment if I were a scientist. I would be curious to know why some people cannot smell it and some people think it’s the worst smell in the world!

  • 13. serendipitysettings  |  August 9, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Interesting the people who say they can not smell it- I wonder if it is the old boar taint taste/smell thing. Some people think cilantro tastes like soap. Biology is so cool.


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