News and Events

Botanical Buzz - Lemon Myrtle

Friday, January 09, 2015

“Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not” (Act 3 ) The Tempest by William Shakespeare.

After the recent blustery tempests capable of sending any ship off course, it is not a big leap for the creative mind to imagine the Sensory Gardens as being the island home of the wizard Prospero.

For young children the Sensory Gardens must seem full of wonder and magic.

The towering bamboo quivers in the wind, fountains gently splash and the leaves say “shhhhhh….”.

 Scented flowers and aromatic leaves fill the Sensory Gardens with “sweet airs” to create enduring and pleasant memories of visits to the gardens.

 A plant that combines visual beauty with olfactory delight is the Backhousia citriodora commonly known as the Lemon Myrtle.

Backhousia citriodora is an Australian native plant indigenous to the coastal areas from Cairns to Brisbane. It belongs to the Myrtaceae family and can grow into a medium sized tree.

The genus was named after the remarkable James Backhouse. He was a nineteenth century botanist and Quaker missionary committed to the welfare of the disadvantaged. During arduous travels to penal outposts he collected many botanical specimens of Australian plants for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London.

The species name citriodora and common name Lemon Myrtle is a reference to the strong lemon smell of the crushed leaves. Backhousia citriodora has been traditionally used by Aboriginal people in cooking and to treat a wide range of ailments.

It is now commercially grown and harvested for its leaves and essential oil. The crushed leaves are used as flavouring for a wide range of foods and can be made into tea.  The essential oil is high in  citral, an aroma compound used in perfumery for its citrus smell.

A fine specimen of Backhousia Citriodora, covered in abundant cream blossoms may be found near the beautiful sandstone gecko in the Sensory Gardens.

                                                                                                                        By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan