What’s that smell?

view of a cloudy day in the AZ desert
Morning view from my backyard this morning after rainfall.

It was sprinkling this morning when I left for my morning walk. Not once did I think to skip my walk. It wasn’t a downpour — at least not when I left the house. A few blocks away it was coming down hard and the gutters lining the streets turned into mini rivers.

By the time I turned around and got back to my driveway, the rain was light. I continued on. What really got my attention — besides how refreshing the cool rain felt on my skin — was the smell. It was a pungent earthy, spicy, herbal aroma.

When I got back to my computer I googled smell in the desert after a rain. I found an article called Desert rain: What gives it that sweet smell? by Ian Schwartz for CBS 5 on a website called AZ Family.

I learned there is a word for the smell after a rain. It’s called petrichor. Did you know that? I learned something new today. Also, that the reason for the pungent herbal aroma in the Sonoran Desert is because of creosote.

Joe McAuliffe, the director of research at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, said what you’re smelling is the creosote bush.

But does that mean our in Arizona rain smells differently than other parts of the country? I mean, rain is rain. Right?

Yes. And no. You have to remember that rain itself has no smell. The dirt the rain hits, however, well, that’s different.

Desert rain: What gives it that sweet smell?

I also learned from the article that creosote bushes make 300-year-old saguaros look like babies. Creosote live in the desert for thousands of years. They can live 6,000 to 10,000 years making them the oldest plants in the world. One reason is although they smell sweet, their taste keeps animals away. Plus they can withstand droughts.

What an interesting place I live in. There is such a distinct aroma after this rain compared to my old home in Palm Springs. And especially different than where I grew up near Seattle that has a foresty smell that is heavenly, too.

How would you describe the smelll or “petrichor” where you live?

cloudy day in a Sonoran Desert backyard with saguaro
This saguaro in our back yard is currently inhabited by a woodpecker family. I can’t wait to see the babies!

15 thoughts on “What’s that smell?

  1. I also investigated the word petrichor after smelling the sweet smell here after the rain in NL.
    Fascinating photos.
    Thanks ๐Ÿค—๐ŸŒผ

  2. Yes I love the creosote here in Palm Springs too… in Boy Scouts we take time to pull a bit off a bush on a hike and rub it between our fingers. It releases that fresh rain smell every time bringing lovely memories of rainy days. Native Americans use the creosote bush for medicinal purposes. Love that even your information triggers my emotions and the memory of that scent without any here!

    • Good to see you here, Lori! Thanks for commenting. I donโ€™t remember the creosote smells in PS. But we werenโ€™t in Boy Scouts, so I must have missed it.

  3. Hmm..I think petrichor sounds like a good word to describe my husband after he mows the lawn.. I feel like the word ‘petrifying’ is kinda hidden in there which describes how I feel when he comes inside and plops down on our sandy colored furniture..’chor’.. reminds me of chorus..which I’m sure I sound like I’m a member of as I tell him in a high pitched voice to get in the shower. But no, I didn’t know petrichor was a scent. Around here when it rains too much it just smells like fish.. more pescador than petrichor. HAHA!!

      • My son said, “Petrichor sounds greek to my ears, but Iโ€™m not sure. I do know about the word, and one of my favorite expensive candles is petrichor-scented. The word is constructed from Greek petra, “rock”, or petros, “stone”, and ฤซchลr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.”

      • I posted it but where did it go on the comment feed? Here it is again, in case you missed it above:

        โ€œPetrichor sounds greek to my ears, but Iโ€™m not sure. I do know about the word, and one of my favorite expensive candles is petrichor-scented. The word is constructed from Greek petra, โ€œrockโ€, or petros, โ€œstoneโ€, and ฤซchลr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.โ€

  4. ๐Ÿ’œ Me; single, mobile stricted (Collapsed Pelvic Girdle) and writing with questionable grooming and hygiene habits…that said, I Do Open Windows from Time-To-Time; also I Do Step OutSide to Dispence with Garbage and ReCycling when The Mood Takes Me, I AM STINKY!!!

    … ๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’™…

    • ๐Ÿ’œ Just to Clarify EveryOne, I AM a Boy; the “Collapsed Pelvic Girdle” that had Me Crawling for a while, like a Baby, is Due to Sacral Energetic, Evolutionary Development, Activation and Growth… which is a Much Bigger Baby; that’s why Ladies Have Wider Hips and Male Pregnancy Happening Soon

      …๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’™…

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