Earth Sense: The Sweet Smell Of Wet Soil

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There’s nothing like it: either the word or the phenomenon. Petrichor is the term coined in 1964 by two Australian scientists, Isabel Joy Bear and Richard G Thomas, derived from the Greek word petra  meaning stone and ichor the fluid that flows in Greek gods’ veins (Nature, Volume 201, Issue 4923, pp. 993-995) and they used it to describe the smell of soil when it rains after a prolonged dry spell. They even defined the component parts. Oils from drying plants are absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks and when it rains, these are released in the air along with the aromatic exudations of actinobacteria in the soil.

And that’s what happened here today, spot on 2 pm just when the weather forecast said it would, and after several weeks of drought. I’d just made it back from the allotment where I had been moving raised beds, making new terraces and breaking up compacted soil in readiness for the promised rain. On the way home, draped in emergency polytunnel mac – a somewhat scabby garment I have to say, I noticed how the blossom on the crab apple tree by the garden gate is already going over, and I had only posted its picture the other day, the flowers so pink and freshly unfurling. Today the petals are white and shedding, here and there revealing the makings of miniscule apples on their stems. The procreative imperative in full swing then, which naturally induced a fit of gardener’s panic, a feeling that somehow I was lagging behind. So much to do, and so little time.

But then down came a soft and steady rain that made the garden sit up tall, and pretty soon filled the air with those delicious earth scents, the sort you breathe up your nose and into your soul, that make you one with antique divinities whose veins flow with ethereal fluids. No need to rush. Just breathe. Aaaaah. Petrichor!

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Copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

46 thoughts on “Earth Sense: The Sweet Smell Of Wet Soil

  1. The rain over here has been dramatic this past week and in Natal floods have been the order of the day, with rivers bursting their banks and houses being swept away.

    It never rains etc …

    1. Extreme weather events, it’s what the weather people have been telling us to expect for some years now. Such warnings don’t quite spell out the human tragedies involved though.

  2. For the longest time I was dissatisfied with the word ‘Petrichor’… I felt like it did not do justice to the smell. However, stone, fluid in gods’ veins… not bad at all…

  3. What a wonderful post, Tish..so poetic! Funnily enough, I’d never heard of Petrichor until quite recently. I read a post about the meaning & I loved the word immediately. A few days afterwards, I experienced it, & thought how lovely that it has its own, perfect, descriptive word. And that smell! Beautiful photos too, Tish! One of my favourite sights are rain or dew drops on flowers/grass/leaves..& those you’ve captured are stunning! 😍

  4. Do you think that each country or place has a unique smell of petrichor? I have found this to be the case. I am wondering if that’s true for you too Tish. In Africa does petrichor there smell different from Much Wenlock? I reckon Australian petrichor smells a lot different from New Zealand petrichor might be something to do with the minerals in the soil or the flower smells in the air 🙂

    1. Oh I agree, it’s definitely dependent on place, Athena. African petrichor was transporting with its wonderful aromas. And I can well imagine Aussie petrichor having a different character from NZ’s, and especially if the base of the aroma comes from drying plants exuding their oils. This could be a whole new pursuit: wet earth sniffing across the planet.

  5. Fabulous, Tish! 🙂 🙂 On Tuesday we were up in the hills, admiring the profusion of lavenders in lilac, green and white. I didn’t even have an improvised Mac when the heavens opened! Elegantly draped my jacket around my head, and chuntered about a certain man who’d said ‘no, of course it’s not going to rain’ SO I’d taken the waterproof cape out of my backpack. 🙂 But oh, it did look good when the sun came out!

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