January 2021

The smell of freshly fallen rain


The smell of freshly fallen rain

If you have been fortunate enough to have been caught in one, or witnessed one, of Africa’s welcoming, frightening but always beautiful thunderstorms, it might help you understand how wild these storms are. You most probably will also get drenched and soaking wet.

Our rainy season at Singita in the Sabi Sand usually (but not always) starts in October through until mid-April. This gives us the opportunity to witness one of Africa’s most wonderful displays of power but also regeneration. The vegetation (or bush as we like to call it) transforms almost overnight from the barren, dusty winter landscape to a fresh vibrant green coat of new hope.

One of the first things you will notice is the smell of the earth after a rain shower. There is a term and scientific explanation for this. The smell is called ‘petrichor’. The name is derived from the Greek words ‘petra’ meaning rock, and ‘ichor’ from Greek mythology meaning ‘the fluid that flows like blood in the veins of the gods’. It is created by the oils exuded or released by certain plants during the dry season in soils and rocks. During rain these oils are released with another compound, geosmin, which is a by-product of certain bacteria that help decompose the organic matter of dead organisms to help the absorption of the nutrients into new plant cells. This combination when released into the air creates this very distinct earthy smell we get to enjoy after a rain or thunderstorm. That’s a lot of science for something so simply enjoyable.

Stop and smell the rain the next time you’re caught in a storm!

There is and African proverb that says, “The rain wets the leopards spots, but it doesn’t wash them off.”

By Quentin Swanevelder
Field Guide