We at Petrichor get this question about our name probably once a week or more. It has become something of a running joke to the point that we should probably buy a sign that says, “Number of Business Days Since Someone Asked About Our Name.” (Spoiler Alert: I don’t think it has ever hit double-digits)
As a company working at the nexus of supply chains, global trade and agriculture, we get some funny looks when people associate “Petrichor” with “petroleum.” Others associate “Petrichor” with some sort of made-up tech-startup name. So, how does the name “Petrichor” align with our vision and mission for the agribusiness industry?
Petrichor as a concept has a unique connection to soil biology, chemistry, and atmospheric sciences. Working in agriculture means we’re stewards of the natural environment, so Petrichor resonated with us on a deeply personal and professional level.
Let’s back up for a minute: what exactly does “Petrichor” mean? Petrichor is the earthy, pleasant smell that often accompanies the first rain after a period of dry weather, particularly in areas with porous soil or where there are plants and vegetation. The term "petrichor" is derived from the Greek words "petros," meaning stone, and "ichor," meaning the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.
It’s time for a quick synopsis of how the concept of petrichor occurs in nature:
Dry conditions: During a dry period, plants and soil release certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. These compounds can originate from plant oils, resins, or microbial activities in the soil. One of these VOCs, geosmin, is an important compound related to the phenomenon of petrichor. Geosmin is produced by certain types of bacteria and blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) commonly found in soil, water bodies, and vegetation. It is responsible for the distinctive earthy or musty smell associated with petrichor.
Ozone production: Sunlight and atmospheric oxygen interact with these VOCs, leading to the production of ozone (O3). Ozone is a molecule composed of three oxygen atoms and has a distinct odor.
Accumulation: The VOCs and ozone molecules gradually accumulate in the air and on the surfaces of rocks, soil, and vegetation during dry periods.
Rainfall: When rain finally arrives after a dry spell, it carries water molecules, and as they fall, they collide with the surfaces where the VOCs like geosmin and ozone have accumulated.
Aerosol release: The impact of raindrops on these surfaces causes tiny aerosol particles carrying geosmin to be released into the air. These aerosols are responsible for dispersing the distinctive scent of petrichor.
Fragrance perception: Our olfactory receptors, located in the nasal passages, detect and interpret the aerosol particles released during rainfall. The combination of these compounds creates the unique petrichor scent that many people find pleasing.
Overall, petrichor is a result of a complex interaction between plants, soil, microbes, sunlight, and rain. It serves as a natural phenomenon that not only provides a pleasant smell but also has a role in signaling and communication among plants and potentially influencing human emotions. Some anthropologists even suggest an evolutionary connection between the smell of rain, the color green, and the anticipation of plant and animal growth, critical for our diets. Recent research in the journal Nature shed light on a 500-million-year-old relationship between the soil bacteria Streptomyces and a primitive arthropod known as Collembola, or springtail. Streptomyces releases geosmin, which attracts the springtails. The springtails consume the Streptomyces as a food source, then distribute Spreptomyces bacterial spores that are now present on springtails’ bodies and fecal matter. In turn, the Streptomyces get a wider amount of dispersion, forming a symbiotic relationship with the springtails much like birds distributing seeds. Streptomyces have plenty of other benefits, too, such as warding off invading pathogens. In fact, scientists leveraged various Streptomyces species into some of the world’s leading antibiotics for human use.
During the early days of what became Petrichor, we were reminiscing on our backgrounds, ranging from crop sciences to food manufacturing, from endurance runners to triathletes. Beyond just enjoying the smell of petrichor on a long run or after a particularly dry period, we knew food and agricultural production are some of humanity’s most fundamental relationships with nature. We needed a name that would convey our appreciation for nature with the importance of symbiotic relationships.
Petrichor symbolizes the elegance found in complex systems, the foundational nature of society's ties to agriculture, and the importance of being good stewards of our environment. It’s the perfect name for our company, which exists to help enable symbiotic relationships in global trade. Much like the connections between the bacteria and the arthropods, we see logistics and supply chains as the circulatory system of our global economy. Equally important is the human element. Much like the deep connection we have to the smell of Petrichor, we have deep connections to the shared experiences over food.
Just like how the smell of petrichor is pervasive around the world, we believe we have the opportunity to build Petrichor into an enduring company that operates on a similar size and scope in the agriculture sector. It’s this desire to tap into something both fundamental and elemental that pushes us every day to connect the dots across supply chains, economies, and societies. We look forward to sharing more about our journey, our learnings, and our vision with you.