Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Cymbopogon citratus
(citronella grass)



Cymbopogon citratus (citronella grass)


  • Last modified
  • 03 January 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cymbopogon citratus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • citronella grass
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae

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Cymbopogon citratus (citronella grass or lemon grass); habit. Garden of Eden Keanae, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2011.
CaptionCymbopogon citratus (citronella grass or lemon grass); habit. Garden of Eden Keanae, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2011.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cymbopogon citratus (citronella grass or lemon grass); habit. Garden of Eden Keanae, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2011.
HabitCymbopogon citratus (citronella grass or lemon grass); habit. Garden of Eden Keanae, Maui, Hawaii, USA. March, 2011.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cymbopogon citratus (citronella grass or lemon grass); leaves. Olinda, Maui, Hawaii, USA. January, 2007.
CaptionCymbopogon citratus (citronella grass or lemon grass); leaves. Olinda, Maui, Hawaii, USA. January, 2007.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cymbopogon citratus (citronella grass or lemon grass); leaves. Olinda, Maui, Hawaii, USA. January, 2007.
LeavesCymbopogon citratus (citronella grass or lemon grass); leaves. Olinda, Maui, Hawaii, USA. January, 2007.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cymbopogon citratus (DC.) Stapf

Preferred Common Name

  • citronella grass

Other Scientific Names

  • Andropogon ceriferus Hack.
  • Andropogon citratus DC. ex Nees
  • Andropogon nardus subsp. ceriferus L. (Hack.) Hack.
  • Andropogon roxburghii Nees ex Steud.
  • Calamus aromaticus
  • Cymbopogon nardus
  • Cymbopogon nardus subvar. citratus (L.) Rendle (DC. ex Nees) Roberty

International Common Names

  • English: citron grass; fever grass; lemongrass; West Indian lemongrass
  • Spanish: hierba limon; pasto limón; sontol; te limon; zacate de limón; zacate dete; zacate limón
  • French: citronelle; herbe citron; verveine des Indes
  • Chinese: xiang mao

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: cana-cidreira; cana-limão; capim-cidró; capim-santo; erva-cidreira; patchuli-falso; yerbaluisa
  • Germany: Lemongras; Zitronellgras; Zitronengras
  • India: bhustarah; gandhabene; gandhatran; injippullu; khavi; lilacha; majjigehallu; nimmagaddi; vasanapullu
  • Indonesia: sereh
  • Italy: citronella
  • Myanmar: sabalin
  • Peru: yerba Luisa
  • Saint Lucia: sitonnèl
  • Sri Lanka: sereh
  • Vietnam: sa chanh

EPPO code

  • CYGCI (Cymbopogon citratus)
  • CYGNA (Cymbopogon nardus)

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Poaceae
  •                             Genus: Cymbopogon
  •                                 Species: Cymbopogon citratus

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Cymbopogon is a very large genus within the grass family Poaceae, consisting of over 500 species that grow in the tropical and sub-tropical regions from mountains to grass lands to arid zones, including the species C. citratus and C. flexuosus.

Cymbopogon species are aromatic and produce commercially important oils, including citronella. Five Cymbopogon species yield three commercially important oils that are traded internationally. They are: lemongrass oil from Cymbopogoncitratus (Indian or West Indian lemongrass) and Cymbopogon flexuosus (East Indian lemongrass from Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Myanmar); palmarosa oil from Cymbopogon martini and citronella oil from Cymbopogon nardus (Sri Lanka) and Cymbopogon winterianus (Java) (Bertia and Maffei, 2010).

C. citratus is believed to be a native of Malaysia. In English, the herb is commonly known as lemongrass (or lemon grass), citronella grass or fever grass (Ambrose et al., 2016).


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Lemongrass is a perennial, tufted, aromatic C4 grass.

Habit: Perennial; caespitose. Rhizomes short. Culms 100-200 cm long. Ligule an eciliate membrane. Leaf-blades tapering towards sheath; 45-90 cm long; 10-20 mm wide; aromatic.

Inflorescence: Synflorescence compound; paniculate; 30-60 cm long; open. Inflorescence composed of racemes; terminal and axillary; subtended by a spatheole; enclosed.

Racemes two; paired; deflexed; 1-2.5 cm long. Rachis fragile at the nodes; semiterete; villous on margins. Rachis hairs 2-3 mm long. Rachis internodes linear. Rachis internode tip transverse; cupuliform. Raceme-bases flattened; subequal.

Spikelets in pairs. Fertile spikelets sessile; one in the cluster. Companion sterile spikelets pedicelled; one in the cluster. Pedicels linear; semiterete; villous; with 2-3 mm long hairs.

Sterile spikelets: Basal sterile spikelets well developed; two in number (lower raceme); 0 in upper raceme; sessile and pedicelled. Basal sterile spikelet pedicels free; linear. Basal sterile spikelets equalling fertile spikelets.

Companion sterile spikelets well developed; male; elliptic; 4-4.5 mm long; shorter than fertile; deciduous with the fertile spikelet. Companion sterile spikelet glumes chartaceous; acute; muticous. Companion sterile spikelet lemmas two; enclosed by glumes.

Fertile spikelets: Spikelets comprising one basal sterile florets; one fertile floret; without rachilla extension. Spikelets linear or lanceolate; dorsally compressed; 5-6 mm long; 0.7 mm wide; falling entire; deciduous with accessory branch structures. Spikelet callus pilose; base obtuse; inserted.

Glumes: Glumes dissimilar; exceeding apex of florets; firmer than fertile lemma. Lower glume lanceolate; one times length of spikelet; two-keeled; keeled laterally; wingless. Lower glume intercarinal veins absent. Lower glume surface flat or concave. Lower glume apex emarginate. Upper glume lanceolate; one-keeled. Upper glume apex acute.

Florets: Basal sterile florets barren; without significant palea. Lemma of lower sterile floret hyaline. Fertile lemma lanceolate; hyaline; without keel. Lemma apex entire or dentate; 2-fid; muticous, or mucronate; 1-awned. Palea absent or minute.

Flower: Anthers three.

Seed: Cylindrical to sub-globose caryopsis with basal hilum.



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C. citratus is believed to be a native of Malaysia. Lemongrass was one of the herbs transported along the spice route from Asia to Europe. It is now found growing in all continents except Antarctica, and is particularly widely distributed in China, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, Cameroon, Congo, Egypt, Nigeria, North and Central America, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Italy and Papua New Guinea.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


BangladeshPresentAshrafuzzaman et al., 1990
ChinaPresentYang Lei, 2005
IndiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Andhra PradeshPresentMamatha et al., 2002
-HaryanaPresentTomar Minhas, 2004
-Himachal PradeshPresentSrivastava Guleria, 2003
-KarnatakaPresentKrishnamurthy Hemalatha, 2003
-Tamil NaduPresentSoosairaj et al., 2005
-Uttar PradeshPresentMishra et al., 2002; Singh et al., 2002; Singh et al., 2003
-West BengalPresentMandal De, 2005
IndonesiaPresentSuyamto, and Howeler, 2004
JapanPresentAlbo et al., 2003
Korea, Republic ofPresentHammer et al., 1990
NepalPresentSingh et al., 1980
PakistanPresentKhattak et al., 2005; Mirza et al., 2005
PhilippinesPresentBalboa Lim-Sylianco, 1995
Sri LankaPresent
ThailandPresentDetpiratmongkol et al., 2005; Dumri Lertsiri, 2005
VietnamPresentNham, and Thoi, 1993


CameroonPresentNguefack et al., 2004b; Ntonifor et al., 2006
CongoPresentCimanga et al., 2002a; Cimanga et al., 2002b
EgyptPresentMoawad, 2003
KenyaPresentKokwaro, 1979
NigeriaPresentOparaeke, 2006
TanzaniaPresentWilliams, 1949
ZambiaPresentChisowa et al., 1998
ZimbabwePresentChagonda et al., 2000

North America

CanadaPresentLeung Foster, 1996
MexicoPresentBerlin et al., 1974
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-IndianaPresentRozzi et al., 2002
-MarylandPresentNoel et al., 2002
-New YorkPresentWilliamson et al., 1996

Central America and Caribbean

Costa RicaPresentPohl, 1980
CubaPresentEsquivel et al., 1989
PanamaPresentCovich Nickerson, 1966
Saint LuciaLocalisedIntroduced Invasive Graveson, 2012Quite rare but presenting a fire and IAS hazard in critical areas e.g. Pigeon Island

South America

ArgentinaPresentAlbo et al., 2003; Madia Gaetan, 2004
BoliviaPresentMoore et al., 2007
-AmazonasPresentDuke and Vasquez, 1994
-ParanaPresentSevignani Jacomassi, 2003; Gomes et al., 2006
-Rio de JaneiroPresentLeal et al., 2003; Silva et al., 2006
-Santa CatarinaPresentSalerno et al., 2004; Salerno Rebelo, 2006
-Sao PauloPresentFigueiredo et al., 2002; Valarini et al., 2003
ColombiaPresentCardona, 1999
PeruPresentGade, 1975
VenezuelaPresentAndrade Rodriguez, 2002


ItalyPresentBertea et al., 2003
UKPresentHumphrey, 1973


AustraliaPresentBeech, 1990; Shivas et al., 1999
New ZealandPresent
Papua New GuineaPresentWossa et al., 2004

Biology and Ecology

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C. citratus, West Indian lemongrass, is a tropical perennial plant, which yields an aromatic oil.


C. citratus flourishes in the sunny, warm, humid conditions of the tropics. It grows well between 900 and 1250 m above mean sea level and where the annual rainfall averages 2500-3000 mm. C. citratus is more drought tolerant than C. flexuosus , and in areas where rainfall is poor it can be grown with supplemental irrigation. A day temperature of 25-30°C, with no extreme low night temperatures, is optimum for maximum oil production. Short periods above 30°C have little general effect on C. citratus plants, but severely reduce oil content. Maximum plant height has been recorded during the rainy season and lowest during the second harvest in the non-rainy season. The yield of oil fluctuates greatly with season, condition of plant material, its moisture content and the age of the planting material (Thomas, 1995; Weiss, 1997; Singh, 1999). When the role of environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall, relative humidity and soil moisture on variation of oil content under the agroclimatic conditions of the northeastern region of India was studied, results showed that the monsoon was characterized by higher oil content, whereas winter and autumn were characterized by comparatively lower oil content. However, each environmental factor studied in isolation did not appear to have a direct relationship with oil content. Climatic influence is cumulative. Biomass and essential oil recovery is maximum during the summer. The maximum biomass recorded is 16.1 t/ha (Tomar and Minhas, 2004). Culinary herb production in a retractable roof greenhouse can optimize biomass and quality of lemongrass in a semi-arid climate. Studies at CIMAP, Lucknow, India, showed that cultivation of perennial lemongrass, palmarosa and Indian basil could be suggested for efficient utilization of natural resources and higher economic returns from rainfed areas of subtropical northern India. Lemongrass is a very productive traditional species in agroforestry systems in the Caribbean (Palada et al., 2005).


Lemongrass flourishes in a wide variety of soils, ranging from rich loam to poor laterite. In sandy loam and red soils it requires good manuring. Calcareous and waterlogged soils are unsuitable for its cultivation, but good drainage is important. Plants growing in sandy soils have higher leaf oil yield and citral content. C. citratus is more commonly grown on soils with higher acidity than C. flexuosus. Lemongrass will grow and produce average herbage and oil yields on highly saline soils. It grows well on poor soils along hill slopes.


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C. citratus is planted in home gardens and has been used as an important aromatic and medicinal plant since ancient times in South and South-East Asia. It is grown for both its essential oil and as a food and beverage flavouring. It is also used in cosmetics and as folk medicine in several regions of the world.

Lemongrass is commonly used as a condiment in Asian cooking (Joy et al., 2007). Freshly ground lemongrass is added to spice pastes in Thailand and Indonesia. It is a popular constituent of many curries. The herb's popularity comes from the mildness of its fragrance, which does not overpower the senses in the way that lime does.

Lemongrass oleoresin is mainly used in flavouring foods, drinks and bakery preparations. Lemongrass is cultivated for its oil, which is used in culinary flavouring. It is used in most major categories of food including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts, confectionery, baked foods, gelatins, puddings, meat and meat products, and fats and oils.

The aromatic leaves of lemongrass are commonly used for tea and other beverages. The dried leaves are widely used as a lemon flavour ingredient in herbal teas, prepared either by decoction or infusion of 2-3 leaves in 250 or 500 ml of water (Wannamacher et al., 1990) and other formulations (Joy et al., 2006a, b). Lemongrass tea is diuretic.

Lemongrass is used in Chinese medicine to treat a variety of ailments including eczema, colds, headache, stomach ache, abdominal pain and rheumatic pain. In India it is an important Ayurvedic medicine. Lemongrass oil is a stimulant, antiseptic, febrifuge, carminative, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and is useful against rickets. Lemongrass has allelopathic, anthelmintic, anticancer, anticandidal, antidiabetic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antinoceptive, antioxidant, antiplatelet and antiviral activities. It is cytotoxic, which could be exploited for pesticidal or chemotherapeutic agents (Dubey et al., 1997). It has insecticidal, larvicidal, nematicidal, pro-oxidative and repellent activities and is a vasorelaxant. Citral is a well known contact allergen and irritant (Heydorn et al., 2003).

Occasionally lemongrass is planted as soil cover and for erosion control, with the leaves harvested for the distillation of West Indian lemongrass oil (CSIR, 1950; Bose et al., 2001). It is useful for planting on bunds for soil conservation and as a mulch, and is sometimes grown for cellulose and paper production.

Uses List

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  • Erosion control or dune stabilization

Human food and beverage

  • Spices and culinary herbs


  • Essential oils
  • Lipids
  • Pesticide

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore


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Abe S, Sato Y, Inoue S, Ishibashi H, Maruyama N, Takizawa T, Oshima H, Yamaguchi H, 2003. Anti Candida albicans activity of essential oils including lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) oil and its component, citral. Japanese Journal of Medical Mycology, 44(4):285-291.

Albo GN, Henning C, Ringuelet J, Reynaldi FJ, Giusti MRD, Alippi AM, 2003. Evaluation of some essential oils for the control and prevention of American foul brood disease in honey bees. Apidologie, 34(5):417-427.

Ambrose, D. C. P., Manickavasagan, A., Naik, R., 2016. Leafy medicinal herbs: botany, chemistry, postharvest technology and uses., Leafy medicinal herbs: botany, chemistry, postharvest technology and uses:xiii + 282 pp.

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Anon, 1981. Annual Report 1980-81. Lucknow, India: Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, 68.

Ashrafuzzaman MH, Khan AR, Howlider AR, 1990. In vitro effect of lemongrass oil and crude extracts of some higher plants on Rhizoctonia solani. Bangladesh Journal of Plant Pathology, 6(1-2):17-18

Balboa JG, Lim-Sylianco CY, 1995. Effect of some medicinal plants on skin tumor promotion. Philippine Journal of Science, 124(2):203-207; 2 ref.

Beech DF, 1990. The effect of carrier and rate of nitrogen application on the growth and oil production of lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) in the Ord Irrigation Area, Western Australia. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 30(2):243-250.

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