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!