Trees to Hug — or Hide From

The dogwood, Virginia’s favorite.
The dogwood, Virginia’s favorite.

The cherry blossoms have departed, leaving D.C. residents bereft of trees to freak out about. Enter Arbor Day. The holiday, which falls on the last Friday in April (that’s this Friday), means that we as a city can turn our attention to other local flowering beauties.

Dogwoods: This flowering tree deserves more credit, says Scott Aker, head of horticulture at the U.S. National Arboretum. “We don’t appreciate them, because they’re native, perhaps,” Aker says of the plant that pulls double-duty as Virginia’s state flower and tree. Which is ironic, because in Japan, dogwoods gifted by the U.S. are revered. “We have cherry blossom princesses, they have dogwood princesses,” Aker says.

Ginkgos: The ginkgo tree is a specimen that’s very popular in urban areas. “Nothing afflicts them,” Aker says.

When the trees were brought to D.C., though, “The District went a little cheap, maybe, so they planted some females here and there.” That doesn’t sound like too much of a problem until you learn that female trees produce a fruit that, in the autumn, starts to smell. Bad. “I’ve heard everything from vomit to dog feces,” Aker says. “To me it smells like very, very strong Romano cheese.”

Residents who are repulsed by the lady ginkgo’s womanly non-charms can petition the District Department of Transportation to get the offending tree removed (60 percent of property owners on the block have to agree to it). Removal can take up to six months after the petition’s approval. Until then, breathe through your mouth.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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