Life isn’t fair. Whereas some people never seem to get bitten by mosquitoes and often don’t even seem to notice the critters– others spend their evenings frantically swatting them, usually to no avail. Rest assured, it’s not your imagination:Several studies have shown that to mosquitoes, all people really aren’t created equal. Besides factors such as heat and carbon dioxide, mosquitoes use odors to find their victims, and humans appear to exude different amounts of the volatile compounds the insects love. By studying mosquito behavior, entomologists are trying to tease out these favorite smells. Millions of years of evolution have resulted in sophisticated odor-based navigation systems that differ greatly from one mosquito species to the next, depending on where it lives and which host it prefers. Even so, chemical and behavioral studies–often using human volunteers as bait–have helped identify some of the smells that tempt several mosquito species. And recently, molecular researchers have begun identifying the receptors that pick up these odors and translate them into neural signals. We have found some basic household plants that can be planted to keep the mosquitoes away!
Horsemint has a scent similar to citronella. Horsemint grows wild from Mexico, Texas up to Minnesota to Vermont. Native Americans used it as a treatment for colds and flu. It has natural fungicidal and bacterial retardant properties because it’s essential oils are high in thymol.
This charming little bedding plant contains coumarin, and mosquitoes detest the smell. It is used in the perfume industry and is even in some commercial mosquito repellants. Don’t rub ageratum on your skin, though. It has some other less desirable elements that you don’t want to keep on your skin in quantity.
One of the most powerful mosquito repellant plants is ordinary catnip. Recent studies have shown that it is ten times more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes. It is a short lived perennial throughout most of the United States. It is easy to grow from seed, and quickly reseeds. Aside from its intoxicating effects on cats, the leaves make a very soothing tea. With all of these plants, the leaves must be crushed to release the aroma. Otherwise mosquitoes can’t smell them. And, with rosemary and catnip, you can simply crush a few leaves and rub on your skin and clothing to enhance the effect. So, next time you are revising your plantings, consider using some of these attractive plants to do more than just enhance the landscape. You can have
pretty ornamentals that also drive mosquitoes away.