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Citronella, The “Mosquito Plant,” Is a Complete Lie

Have you heard of a Citronella plant? Sometimes stores also call it a “mosquito plant,” claiming its smell repels those annoying bugs. But here’s an unfortunate truth: that’s all bogus.

The specific plant I’m talking about is NOT a Citronella plant. It’s a form of geranium known as Pelargonium Citrosum, or more commonly, a Citrosa plant. And just about everything about this plant is a lie. Let me break it down for you into sections

It’s Not The Citronella Plant

This is the most direct bit of deception. There IS a plant called the Citronella plant, or Citronella Grass. Why grass? Because it IS a grass. Real Citronella is a grass-like plant. And that plant does contain high amounts of Citronella oil, an oil known to repel bugs. But since the word Citronella is more commonly known, many places have taken to calling Citrosa plants “Citronella plants.”

It Doesn’t Contain Much Citronella Oil

As many folks know, Citronella oil is a popular ingredient in repelling mosquitoes. This sparked a rise in popularity for Citronella candles (which also don’t work, but one thing at a time). Part of the reason Citrosa plants are advertised as Citronella plants is to show off how much Citronella they contain. You will likely recognize the smell when you take a whiff of the Citrosa plant. But that’s where the trick lies.

The level of fragrance from a plant is NOT an indication of how much Citronella oil it contains. Real Citronella plants don’t have much of a smell at all, actually. But because Citrosa plants are very fragrant, it became an easier choice for convincing people that it contains a lot of Citronella oil. But it doesn’t. It does have some, but not very much. Some plants that have a lot more Citronella oil in them include: Lemon Balm, Lemon Grass, Citronella Grass.

The Citrosa Plant Will Not Naturally Repel Bugs

The main advertising shtick of the plant is that by placing on your porch, deck, or wherever. The powerful Citronella scent will keep mosquitoes away. This is false. They don’t do anything. As unfortunate as it is, even real Citronella plants won’t naturally keep bugs away. Scent alone is not enough to ward them off. The concentrated oil need to be directly applied to a person’s skin or clothes to be of any effect. This is because it acts more as a masking layer, hiding the human smell from the bugs, instead of actively being something they dislike.

Don’t take my word for it. There are plenty of scientific studies that confirm this information. Including this one I used for reference, done by the Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

In Conclusion: They Don’t Work

This isn’t to say that they are bad plants. They look nice, smell nice, and are generally easy to care for. I have one, myself. But I don’t keep it around to scare off bugs. I keep it in my Kitchen to give it a mild, lemony scent. If all you’re wanting is to keep the bugs away, then you’re better off sticking to bug spray. A plant won’t do it on its own.

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