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The rapid increase in bug borne illnesses is prompting many people to consider various strategies to repel bugs. In this process many people ask “What indoor plants repel bugs?” Before we can identify indoor plants that repel bugs we need to know how bugs find food, and us.
This article will highlight plants that have been scientifically proven to repel bugs. However if you just want to know what plants to buy that is fine too, :-). Check out the links below for a quick shopping list.
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Most bugs find food through various chemical signals. All plants and animals emit what scientists call volatile chemicals or VOC. VOCs are liquids that evaporate easily. Example of VOC is our breath. There are various compounds such as traces of isoprene and pentane that can be found in our breath. bugs detect these VOCs or odors and follow them to a potential food source ( us! ). The challenge then in simple terms is, to hide our various chemical odors from bugs.
A google search for “indoor plants that repel bugs” provides almost a million results. Most of these are personal recommendations of what various gardeners and home owners feel have worked for them in the past. Very few of the results provide scientific research to backup their claims.
The purpose of this article will be to identify potted or live plants that can live indoors that repel ticks, mosquitoes, fleas and other bugs. There are volumes of articles and studies confirming the effects of essential oils or natural plant products that repel bugs, however there is less research on live plants that repel bugs.
Ironically one of the most popular live plants that is believed to repel bugs is proven to be ineffective. Throughout the United States home improvement stores and garden centers market the citronella plant as an effective mosquito and bug repellent. believing this claim is understandable as the plant seems to have a strong citronella odor. However a 1996 study confirmed the citronella plant does not repel mosquito’s. The authors concluded “There was no significant difference between citrosa-treated ( citronella plant ) and nontreated subjects.” Fortunately there are other plants that have been shown to repel bugs. Gardner’s call these companion plants.
The concept of companion planting has been practiced for generations by farmers and home gardners. The goal is to plant two or more plant species in close proximity to each other which bestow different benefits to each other. The benefit most gardners look for in companion gardening is utilizing plants that repel insects that are harmful to their primary crop. An example of companion plants that repel insects is Tomatoes and garlic. When garlic is planted near tomatoes the garlic protects the tomato plants from red spider mites. For additional information on companion planting take a look at www.cornell.edu and www.illinois.edu Both provide in depth explanation of companion planing and all associated benefits. While the benefits of companion plants are fairly well respected they apply to gardens and fields not potted plants.
In 2002 a study was conducted to test the effect of various indoor plants believed to repel insects. The researchers placed plants believed to repel bugs in a hut with a human subject and then plain wild grass in another hut with a different human subject as a control group. Once the plants and human subjects were in place mosquitoes were released in the hut. The researchers concluded that the some of the plants believed to repel bugs did reduce the number of mosquito bites. The plants that provided the most benefit were Lantana, Fever Tea, and Lime Basil. Its important to note these were live plants, not oils or incense.
The only modification to the live plants was busing a few leaves of each plant five minutes prior to the start of the study. Selectively bruising small portions of the plant increased the amount of natural oils and scents emitted by the plant. Lets take a closer look at each of these and see how they can be implemented as part of your DIY pest management strategy.
Lantana is a type of perennial flowering plant native to tropical regions of the Americas and Africa. Throughout the eastern and gulf coasts of the United States the Lantan is considered a dangers weed due to its poisonous leaves. However Lantanas are known to attract birds and butterflies and are thus well suited for butterfly gardens.
The Fever Tea plant (also known locally as the Lemon Bush ) is native to south Africa. It grows us to 6 feet tall and is used throughout Africa for medical purposes and to repel bugs. Further evidence of the bug repellent properties of the Fever Tea plant can be seen in a 2010 patient awarded to the South African government for Fever Tea extract. Studies on this process and extract have found it to be as effective as DEET. Additional information on Fever Tea can be found at www.botanicalsociety.org
Basil is native to tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Thanks to its appealing flavor and medical uses its now found in herb gardens around the world. There are over 35 different varieties of basil. In addition to repelling bugs basil to known to be anti-inflammatory, fight cancer, contain antibacterial properties, help fight viruses, and is an adaptogen. Basil is especially compelling since many people already keep indoor herb gardens. Using this information you can now try basil for cooking and to repel bugs!
Its important to note that the plants referenced in this study did not eliminate bug bites, they reduced them. That means pots of Lantan, Fever Tea, and lime basil need to be part of multi pronged pest management strategy. You can learn more about creating a natural DIY pest management strategy here.