There is nothing quite like a desert rainstorm. As a child, I vividly remember watching the fluffy, gray cumulonimbus clouds appear out of thin air over the horizon, sweeping swiftly across the heat-scoured desert. Because this was an uncommon occurrence, as the Mojave Desert sees about 280 days of sun per year, I knew I should enjoy this fleeting event.
As the clouds settled into place, rain began to fall. Initially, drops fell one by one, a soft plink resonating from every impact upon the sun-baked earth. Little by little, the torrential pour increased, a metered rhythm transformed into a symphony of sound. Finally, as the rain soaked the ground, a sweet smell rose into the air unlike anything on the planet: desert petrichor.
Petrichor is the classic “after-rain” smell, dictated by a region’s native plants. Rain itself is scentless, but it releases various oils from plants as it falls. These oils create the fragrant aroma of petrichor. Likewise, the smell of petrichor varies from place to place, but there is nothing quite like that of the desert. Its characteristic scent originates from the creosote, a tall, branching shrub native to the Mojave. Distinguished by its long, woody branches, vibrant green, waxy leaves, and bright yellow flowers, this bush prevails as a symbol of the Mojave Desert.
From the short-lived bursts of clouds showering their contents across the desert, to the thousands-year-old clonal rings of the creosote, rain never fails to coax the alluring scent of petrichor from the hardy bush. This enticing fragrance celebrates a reprieve from the glaring sun as well as a long-awaited downpour, both exciting events for every desert resident. Once a storm passes, I’m left to wistfully observe the final remnants of dissipating clouds. However, I only need to cup my hands around the fragrant creosote leaves to once again experience the magical scent of desert petrichor.