690 Cymbopogon nardusCommon Names: citronella grass, nardus, nard grass, mana grass Family: Poaceae (grass Family)
Citronella grass is a coarse, clump-forming tropical grass that can grow 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m) tall. The stems are canelike and the leaves are grayish green, flat, about 3 ft (0.9 m) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) or so wide. It does not spread by runners, as some grasses do, but the clump increases in size as the plant matures.
Citronella grass, Cymbopogon nardus, is native to southeast Asia and grown commercially in Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Indonesia and Java. It is widely naturalized in tropical Asia and grown as an ornamental in South Florida and southern California.
CultureLight: Does best in full sun. Moisture: Citronella grass needs at least 30 in (76 cm) of water a year. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 12. Citronella grass is perennial in USDA zones 10-12. It needs a long, warm growing season, and may not survive cool, damp winters. Citronella grass usually is replanted anew each spring after the ground has warmed. Propagation: Propagate citronella grass by dividing the clumps. Do this before winter and keep some of the smaller clumps indoors to insure live plants come spring.
Plant citronella grass along a walkway or near the porch where its fragrance can be appreciated. Its graceful arching leaves and overall vertical form provide subtle opposition when planted near bushy or rounded shrubs and flowers.
Citronella grass is the source of the commercial citronella oil, used in perfumery and as an insect repellent. Inexpensive soaps sold in Asian markets are scented with citronella oil. Citronella oil can be mixed with other vegetable oils and used in massage or rubbed on the skin for an insect repellent. Citronella candles and incense, however, are less effective. Studies have shown that to keep mosquitoes away, you would have to burn so many candles that the smoke would be almost intolerable.
The essential oils extracted from citronella grass are much used in aroma therapy. Practitioners claim it is a stimulant when inhaled or rubbed on the skin, and an antiseptic that can be used to sterilize food preparation surfaces. It is reported that citronella oil repels cats.
There are more than 30 species of Cymbopogon, including the well known lemon grass (C. citratus) which is used in Southeast Asian cooking and teas.
Some individuals experience dermatitis from contact with citronella grass or lemongrass, particularly the concentrated oils from these grasses. Inhaling the essential oils of citronella may increase heart rate in some people.
Steve Christman 5/21/00; updated 5/23/03, 9/11/03, 6/16/04