Hisakaki: What is that smell?

During the spring break last month in March, every time we went outdoors, we caught whiffs of a very bad odor. It was especially strong in our two hikes, one outside of Kyoto and the other on the way up to Rokku Gaaden. It reminded me of rotting flesh. Years ago, a friend of mine had a wild, small iguana, crawl in his golf bag and it died. A week later, when he took out his bag, it smelled exactly like the hisakaki. One web site describes the odor given off by the tiny flowers as “metallic and bile-like”. Thanks to some friendly hikers, we were able to identify the offending plant.

The Hisakaki (Eurya japonicais a tall (1 – 1.5 meters) shrub related to the tea family. The leaves are alternating, dark, glossy and have a serrated  margin. They have a striking herring bone pattern. The branches are used in Shinto ceremonies. The natural habitat is in hilly regions, but I also see them planted in gardens around the city. They are one of the first plants to flower in the late winter / early spring. They have dark blue berries. I will try to get a photo of the berries and post later.

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