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Seoul tries to control smelly ginko nut problem

Oct 12,2015
The Seoul Metropolitan Government vowed in September to get rid of gingko nuts from the city pavements after complaints about their smell swelled.

“This month, the metropolitan government organized a team of 446 people to collect gingko nuts,” said Oh Hae-young, a city official.

“The metropolitan government is also planning to hand out the collected gingko nuts or donate them to senior citizens at community halls and welfare centers in Seoul.”

Seoul will start transplanting female gingko trees, which produce the odoriferous nuts. They will be replaced with male gingko trees in crowded places like bus stops and crosswalks starting next month. The cost of transplanting is 2 to 3 million won ($1,740 to $2,610) per tree. Currently, there are 114,000 gingko trees in Seoul, 10 percent of which are female.

The unpleasant smell of gingko nuts protects them from natural predators. Gingko nuts consist of seeds that people roast and eat or use to make medicine, as well as a 2-centimeter (0.75-inch) husk that covers the seeds.

When a nut falls from a tree, its husk decomposes and releases ginkgolic acid and a poisonous substance called bilobol, which cause the smell.

“Ecologically, nutritious fruits tend to smell bad,” said Kim Bong-ho, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Seoul.

According to the Ministry of Government Legislation, it is against the law to collect fallen gingko nuts, and a violator can be sentenced to jail for theft. In other words, people are not allowed to collect nuts on the street.

Lee Won-young, head of the Urban Planning Bureau for the metropolitan government, said no one has been punished for picking up the nuts.

Seoul’s gingko nuts were once considered to be polluted with heavy metals due to traffic fumes. However, according to a test done by the Seoul Research Institute of Public Health and Environment in November 2014, 1 kilogram (2 pounds) of gingko nuts only contained 0.004 milligrams of lead, 0.002 milligrams of cadmium and 0.002 milligrams of arsenic, which are the same levels as for trees outside the city.

A program of picking up gingko nuts will be organized through each district office in Seoul. Participants can pick up as many as they want. For more information, call 02-2133-2122.

BY JANG HYUK-JIN AND KIM NA-HAN [koo.yurim@joongang.co.kr]


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