Outdoor plants

Types of Citronella Plants

María Belén Acosta
By María Belén Acosta, Landscape and Horticultural Technician. April 13, 2023
Types of Citronella Plants

Cymbopogon is a genus of grasses which have many different names. They are sometimes known as lemongrass, despite not being related to the citrus fruit at all. The smell they give off is very similar to lemon, leading to some types of citronella being used in cooking, being especially associated with Asian cuisine. The strong scent given off by plants in this genus has other properties. One of the most well known is its use as an insect repellant, being particularly associated with driving away mosquitoes.

At thedailyECO, we discover more about these aromatic grasses with our article on 10 types of citronella plants. We discover these citronella species and provide photos to help you recognize them.

You may also be interested in: Types of Carnations - Dianthus Plant Species


  1. Citronella taxonomy
  2. Cymbopogon nardus
  3. Cymbopogon winterianus
  4. Cymbopogon Citratus
  5. Cymbopogon martini
  6. Cymbopogon flexuosus
  7. Cymbopogon Bombycinus
  8. Cymbopogon Schoenanthus
  9. Cymbopogon obtectus
  10. Cymbopogon ambiguus
  11. Cymbopogon commutatus
  12. How to care for different types of citronella plants
See more >>

Citronella taxonomy

As with all plants, citronella belongs to the Plantae kingdom. More specifically, they belong to the Poales order. It is here where the Poaceae family is found and within it we find the genus Cymbopogon to which all types of citronella belong. Although we may not think of grasses as types of flowering plants, they do indeed have flowers. They are not always visible since they flower at different times of the year.

The plants belonging to the genus Cymbopogon are native to Southeast Asia. They are all perennial herbaceous plants with a characteristic intense green color, in addition to their lemon aroma. In addition, they can reach a meter in height.

One plant which is commonly confused as a type of citronella plant is Melissa officinalis, commonly known as lemon balm. Although it has a mild lemon scent and is used in cooking, it is not related to citronella. For this reason, it is not included in the following list of types of citronella plants with examples and photos:

Cymbopogon nardus

Cymbopogon nardus or Ceylon lemongrass is considered by many to be the true citronella plant. This is perhaps because it is one of the species most used for its essential oil. This herbaceous perennial is a type of tussock, meaning it grows in clumps. They have long creeping rhizomes which can reach over a meter in length. Its apex is glaucous green and presents its flowers in compact inflorescences. They reproduce both by division and by seed.

Learn more with our guide to spermatophytes or seed plants.

Types of Citronella Plants - Cymbopogon nardus

Cymbopogon winterianus

In addition to Cymbopogon nardus, it is the most widely used anti-mosquito citronella plant due to its high concentration of essential oils. Also known as Java citronella, it is characterized by a shorter rhizome than that of the previous type of citronella plant. It is capable of exceeding 2 meters in height and has narrow, lanceolate leaves, but with a characteristic reddish outline.

Types of Citronella Plants - Cymbopogon winterianus
Image: ResearchGate

Cymbopogon Citratus

West Indian lemon grass is a perennial herb with a short, aromatic rhizome. It has erect stems up to 2 m long with blooming knots. As you can see in the photo below, its leaves have the following characteristics:

  • Alternate
  • Flat
  • Scabrous margin
  • Acute apex
  • Narrow base
  • Grooved sheath
  • Glabrous (no hairs)

Its groups of flowers (known as inflorescences) are cluster-shaped and pendulous, measuring between 30 and 50 cm. Its spikelet is sessile, muticous and with a concave back.

Types of Citronella Plants - Cymbopogon Citratus

Cymbopogon martini

This herb is from South Asia andis popularly known as palmarosa. It is also recognized for its rose-scented essential oil and is capable of passing a meter in height. In addition, it has small reddish inflorescences. Its best method of reproduction is through seeds, which can be grown all year. Regarding its care, we recommend that you place somewhere it receives direct sunlight, as long as the temperatures do not exceed 30 ºC/86 ºF.

Types of Citronella Plants - Cymbopogon martini

Cymbopogon flexuosus

As with most plants belonging to the Cymbopogon genus, it has a pleasant lemon aroma capable of repelling mosquitoes. Cymbopogn flexuosus is also known as Cochin grass and has elongated, green, sharp leaves, typical of grasses. You can grow it both in the garden soil and in a pot. The one in the photo is grown wild.

You may not be aware that the long parts of grasses are actually types of leaves. Learn more with our guide to the parts of leaves and their functions.

Types of Citronella Plants - Cymbopogon flexuosus
Image: Anthropocene

Cymbopogon Bombycinus

This herbaceous plant is native to Australia and is characterized by having silky hairs on its leaves. Also, unlike most citronellas, this one is not used as a mosquito repellent. This can be confusing since it is commonly known as citronella grass in some parts. It is used in traditional medicine, believed to be able to combat pain using its essential oil or burning it to inhale its aroma to improve colds .

Types of Citronella Plants - Cymbopogon Bombycinus

Cymbopogon Schoenanthus

As in the previous case, this type of Cymbopogon is not used as a mosquito repellent, but is used in traditional medicine to combat bacteria and fungi. This plant is native to Saudi Arabia, so it tolerates high temperatures and does not need too much watering as it is typical of desert areas. For this reason, it is commonly known as camel grass and it looks similar to other citronella plant species as you can see in the photo.

Learn more about plants that are adapted to arid areas with our guide to xerophyte plants and their examples.

Types of Citronella Plants - Cymbopogon Schoenanthus

Cymbopogon obtectus

This type of citronella plant is used to help improve soil conditions. In doing so, it can help create a more suitable ecosystem for other plants and animals. Its use to repopulate harsh areas thanks to its resistance to extreme climates makes t makes his species a perfect ally against desertification. It is also characterized by having silky whitish hairs.

Types of Citronella Plants - Cymbopogon obtectus
Image: Naturalist

Cymbopogon ambiguus

Also known as Australian lemon-scented grass, this example of a citronella plant does what it name suggests. This is because it is lemon scented and it comes from Australia. It is capable of self-pollination and has bluish/gray leaves. One reason it is so well suited to Australia is its need for a lot of sunlight, being able to withstand hot temperatures and live in relatively arid spaces.

Learn about other semi-arid areas and the plants which live there in our article on steppe biome plants and animals.

Source: flickr.com

Types of Citronella Plants - Cymbopogon ambiguus

Cymbopogon commutatus

Also known as incense grass, this citronella plant example is endemic to South Asia, but extends to Arabia and parts of Africa. It is closely associated with Qatar where it appears on one of this country's official stamps. It is widely used for many purposes, not only as an insect repellent, but in cosmetics such as soap and for incense, as its common name would suggest. The photo below shows incense grass citronella with its inflorescences.

Source: Flora of Qatar

Types of Citronella Plants - Cymbopogon commutatus

How to care for different types of citronella plants

Citronella oil is used not only to combat annoying mosquitoes and other insects, but the plant is also used as a condiment and for other uses as explained above. In addition, its fresh leaves are used from this plant as an air freshener and it is commonly used in candles.

Although each plant may have some specific properties, the care of citronella plants is generally the same for each citronella species. This includes:

  • Placing the citronella somewhere it receives direct sunlight.
  • Providing a well-drained substrate to prevent the roots from rotting due to humidity.
  • Irrigating it moderately, especially during the winter.
  • Pruning it during summer.
  • Use organic fertilizer and compost to improve its growth and appearance.

Learn how to make one of the best types of fertilizer for plants with our guide to making worm castings at home.

If you want to read similar articles to Types of Citronella Plants, we recommend you visit our Outdoor plants category.

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Types of Citronella Plants