About a dozen young hawthorn trees recently blossomed outside the entrance to the new federal complex in Erie, giving visitors and workers an eyeful of delicate, small, white flowers but also a noseful of what smells like something dead or rotting.
"They say, 'Oh my God, what is that smell out there?' We say, 'Oh, it's just our wonderful trees,"' said Frank Gressley, a U.S. Marshals Service court security officer.
It took awhile for people to figure out the blossoms were to blame for the nose-wrinkling smell.
The trees were planted as part of a $36 million renovation of the federal courthouse. Other plantings around the courthouse include white-flowered rhododendrons, honey locusts with comb-like leaves and creeping myrtle vines.
It's unclear why officials picked the hawthorn trees or placed them next to the front door.
The trees may have been selected more for their aesthetics than olfactory impact, said Jim Sellmer, an associate professor of ornamental horticulture at Pennsylvania State University.
"You have to ask, 'Do you not want your people to go to work?' It is a pretty flower, but the stench is enough to drive people away," Sellmer said.