Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Mosquito Plant: Fact or Fiction?

Pelargonium citrosum is being sold everywhere here as "The Mosquito Plant", or "The Mosquito Repellant Plant". I found a little one, leggy and disheveled, at the back of a nursery, and bought it for a few bucks several months ago. It's now over a meter tall, and gloriously fragrant. But what is it, and does it really repel nasty mosquitoes?
Well, clearly, this is a scented geranium, genus Pelargonium. No mystery there. It smells and looks exactly like many lemon-scented geraniums I encountered in Europe. These plants were brought to Europe from (I'll give you 2 guesses but you'll only need 1!) South Africa, and became insanely popular during the Victorian period. The essential oil is still a fundamental ingredient in hundreds of perfumes, and is often used to bolster the much more expensive rose. Olfactory facets of citrus and rose dominate, but there are also more minty pelargoniums, and even one that smells vaguely of chocolate!

During the summer, I make little posies from the abundant leaves, and the delicious scent is cooling and refreshing.

But do the leaves repel bugs? Alas, no, I have not found it so. Tiger mosquitoes still plague me in the garden. And I doubt it's a hybrid of citronella grass and geranium. I mean, come on! The American Botanical Council says that P. citrosum is not a valid taxonomic designation. So this does sound like nothing more than the clever marketing of an old favorite.

But hey, it's a Pelargonium, it's tough, grows very fast, and is thoroughly delightful. I can't imagine living without its perfume in the garden. So what's not to love?

Pelargonium Leaf, MR, 2013


  1. My brother in law grows a variety of scented geraniums. Some smell like roses, others like lemon, pepper, mint and chocolate. My favorite are the chocolates but I love them all.

  2. They have a huge variety, it's true. I've only seen this citrus-scented one here, but in Europe, I knew several gardeners who specialized in them. Heavenly scents! I think my favorite is rose, but chocolate is a close second....

  3. Have you tried catnip oil to repel mosquitoes? It works for some people against certain mosquitoes. Not for me, though.

  4. I've heard that catnip really works well for some people, but we have so many cats here, I'm afraid of what would happen if I went outside smelling so yummy to them!