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[Editorial] Smelly ginkgo problem

Government should consider alternative cost-free option

Nothing says “autumn” more beautifully and, unfortunately, pungently than the ginkgo trees that line the streets of Seoul and elsewhere around the country.

On many Seoul pedestrian pavements, one can easily see fallen ginkgo berries that have been stepped on. The odor of fallen ginkgo berries, which is often likened to the smell of vomit, is caused by butyric acid released from the rotting berries. The squashed ginkgo berries on the pavements are an eyesore as well, as they quickly dirty the sidewalks.

Faced with mounting public complaints about the stink, Seoul City said it has mobilized 446 personnel to deal exclusively with eradicating the smelly problem. The goal is to harvest the berries while they are still on the trees. Failing that, the fallen berries will be quickly removed from the streets to minimize the stench. The city said that a rapid response team will respond within 24 hours of receiving calls from the public.

A more fundamental approach would be to remove female ginkgo tress that bear berries from areas of high pedestrian traffic, using a test developed a few years ago which can determine a ginkgo tree’s gender. Indeed, the city said that it will begin the work of removing female ginkgo trees from bus stops and pedestrian lights and replacing them with male ginkgo trees. The female trees will be transplanted in parks and elsewhere with little pedestrian traffic. About 10 percent of the nearly 114,000 ginkgo trees in Seoul are female, and it will cost about 2 million won to 3 million won to replace one female ginkgo tree with a male ginkgo tree.

Seoul City said it would distribute ginkgo nuts taken from the ginkgo berries harvested by its quick response team to welfare and senior centers. Residents will also be allowed to collect ginkgo berries on the ground after they have been shaken from the trees by district officials using special tools.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government could also consider a cost-free option -- allowing the people to pick ginkgo berries. The current law forbids individuals from shaking ginkgo berries from trees as they are properties of the local district. Special days could be designated when area residents can harvest the ginkgo berries. It has been proven that ginkgo nuts from trees in Seoul are safe for consumption and since they are prized delicacies of the season, the public will appreciate a chance to gather some berries. This may be a much cheaper way to prevent the stench of fall.