The Real Reason Why Rain Smells So Good in New Mexico

If you’ve ever been in New Mexico and had the good fortune of catching one of our rain showers, then you’ve likely noticed the wild and special aroma that follows.  The closer you get to the desert plains, farther and farther from the city, the stronger this incredible smell becomes.  That’s because a major culprit behind the olfactory pleasure is a somewhat unassuming plant called the creosote bush.

The creosote bush is a very common desert plant in New Mexico.  What is uncommon about this desert plant, is that compared to cacti, yucca, or the like, the creosote bush is very dependent on water.  The creosote bush has been forced to adapt to the arid climate to gather any water it can find.  With the longest roots and the most pores in the desert, this bush really appreciates the presence of life-saving water.

When the desert begins to rain the creosote bush springs to life, opening its pores to embrace and absorb the much-needed rainwater.  When these pores open, oils are released from the bush and into the water droplets in the otherwise dry desert air.  The diffused oils, fresh rain, and blooming flowers then make their way to the noses of the nearest New Mexico citizens, which causes an involuntary physiological reaction known as a “happy smile.”

A large combination of many beautiful plants and landscapes are responsible for the incredible ‘rain smell’ that occurs in New Mexico.  The next time you find a creosote bush you should give it a smell, you might be surprised to find that the scent from that seemingly common plant is exactly what makes you think of the rain!

The Centennial Museum explains, “Water molecules carry scents from such things as oils released from plants, other chemicals, and even spores from tiny bacteria, called ‘actinomycetes’.”  Truly, a wild symphony of smells is responsible for what we determine to be a sweet desert rainstorm.

The Centennial Museum urges residents to visit their Chihuahuan Desert Gardens and try sniffing all the different types of desert plants.  They posit a special challenge for south-westerners; “Can you recognize other aromas from our sweet-smelling rain? We might not get much precipitation here, but only we desert dwellers get to enjoy the marvelous fragrance peculiar to our area!”