That Wonderful Smell? It’s Fall

We are well into fall now and careening into winter, but I can’t let the season pass without noting some of fall’s favourite smells.

No matter how long ago you were a student, a new school year always lends fall a special personality: an odd contrast of something starting up, while the growing season is screeching to a halt. To further burrow this time in our brains, it is filled with smells that make it unlike any other season. Fall as Aromatherapy.
Any North American older than fifty has the scent of burning leaves seared into their memory, as bagging and composting was almost unheard of back then. I have fond memories of little fires smoking on neighbourhood lawns in the early twilight of fall. The smell of burning leaves is indescribably powerful and earthy. There is even a perfume company that sells it as a fragrance. Here’s a review from wonderful perfumista Now Smell This.

 Burning Leaves, another recent fragrance release from CB I Hate Perfume, is to my mind the perfect aromatherapy for the slacker personality, being both calming and invigorating at the same time.

This fire is a bit beyond the old burning leaves ones I remember, but I do love bonfires and the smell of smoke!

Some of the particular aromas perfuming the air this time of year come from trees. Helen noted on Twitter: “Katsura trees *do* smell like candyfloss in fall. Got my first whiff today.” She remarked that the closer she got to the tree, the more the smell receded. The full aroma was experienced across the road where the full fragrance had wafted. Scents can be elusive.

The cottonwood tree smell is pungent, resinous, unmistakeable, and invigorating. The cottonwood tree that stood in my sister’s garden perfumed a whole section of our neighbourhood in fall. Sadly, we smell it no longer, as the tree fell victim to a lightning strike. My trips to Cherry beach where many cottonwoods grow provide me with a hit of this favourite fall smell now.
Wet leaves, fireplace smoke, mud, and that smell when you first turn on the furnace. Apparently some of that particular aroma comes from our own dust bunnies, partially made from sloughed off skin cells. A writer from Mental Floss offers these scent memories:

a particular smell I associate with the onset of fall — the smell of people’s first fireplace fires of the year. And somehow, last night everybody in my neighborhood got the memo and lit up. You can tell it’s the first fireplace fire in a long time, because there’s a weird wet twinge to the smoky odor

fall smell from my year living in Philadelphia as a young child. There, I knew it was fall (okay, almost winter) when I’d smell the rotting Ginkgo leaves — a distinctive stink

As fall turns to winter, one of the most wondrous scents of all begins to arrive, the Christmas Tree Lot smell. Get it while it’s fresh, this time of November is perfect. I practically swooned walking into the evergreen-filled lot of Fiesta Gardens the other day.


  1. First fire in the fireplace smell was this past weekend. I like it. Though I do find it cloying and claustrophobic come February, the longest month of the year. I'll have to rot some ginkgo just to check the smell now. One that gets guests going, but has yet to get me in trouble, is the smell of dried avocado leaves (I'm fortunate to have multiple avocado plants, grown from pits, providing me with dead leaves all winter). Try and burn one sometime. Smells exactly like pot, if college memories serve.

  2. I miss the smell of bonfires: the way it gets into your hair. Nobody seems to do it anymore: I burn stuff occasionally just for the hell of it (although i hasten to add that I am not actually an arsonist and hardly ever burn houses or cars any more….).

    I am feeling slightly smug that you lot in the frozen North are talking about Autumn leaves when England is covered in snow. I am, however, sure that you will soon catch up.

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