Post Classifieds

Blooming trees cause fishy smell on campus

By Kate Young
On March 28, 2004

Dear Answer Girl,
What is that nasty fish smell on campus lately?
-Something's Fishy
You know that "creek" that runs next to the post office and beneath that little bridge before mysteriously disappearing under the Sherrod Library plaza?
Well, would you believe that some students in one of the science departments decided to do some research on the toxicity of that water by setting about 600 small fish loose at one of the origin points of that stream?
Yeah, and needless to say, they all died, but their little fish bodies were washed underground (mysteriously under the Sherrod plaza, remember), so the stench is slowly rising up from the earth all over campus.
Ha, not really. Come on ... did you really think that students in our science departments would drop live fish into a stream to see if it were toxic? Of course not. They'd get freshmen from Intro to Psychology to take a swim for extra credit. Ha.
The real answer is a little bit unbelievable, if you ask me ... which you kind of did, more or less.
You know those beautiful white trees that are in full bloom on campus? Yeah, there are about 16 of them all in a row down Lake Street (where Burgin Dossett is) and many more dotting sidewalks and green spaces.
Well, although they are quite pretty in their white wonderlandy-ness, they smell EXACTLY like dead fish.
I wonder if the individual with landscaping authority was aware of this little drawback. If so, then perhaps these trees were chosen on purpose to keep students motivated to walk quickly and get to class with perfect punctuality. Not so likely to skip class and "enjoy the beautiful day" when you're enveloped by the stench of decaying streamlife, now are you?
But then again, maybe the horrible stink of the Bradford Pear (which is what these trees are, by the way) is little known. Heck, there are lots of people who unwittingly plant them right next to their open-windowed homes. Imagine waking up to that every spring morning.
Crazy, I tell ya.
But why would such a pretty tree smell so bad? Great question! According to my little dab of stinky tree pollen research, flowers that smell like rotting meat use flies as a primary means of pollination.
Makes sense - after all, what are you sure to find around a pile of dead fish? No, not vultures or hyenas. Well, maybe vultures and hyenas. Come to think of it, maybe these trees are also pollinated by carrion birds and scavenging mammals. That would definitely explain the sudden surge of hyena sightings in the area.
But I digress. Flies! That's what is almost always found in and on and around dead fish (and dead, rotting, stinky other stuff, too, ya know).
So, using inference, deduction, context clues and a litmus test, I hypothesize and theorize that Bradford Pears are pollinated by flies. THAT'S what the nasty fish smell is - it's fly bait.
I just love spring, don't you?

Got a question for the Answer Girl? E-mail her at and look for the question to appear in a future issue of the East Tennessean!

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