Information Number Five: Every year during early-
to mid-summer I receive emails asking a question that never seems to die: "Please
send me a list of plants which repel mosquitoes, blackflies, hornets and
yellow-jackets from my patio." To which I always answer: "I'm
sorry to inform you that there is no such list. There are no plants that can
perform such a service" — regardless of what the many faux-experts tell you!
There are some plants which, if you crush their leaves
(releasing pungent essential oils) and rub the residue on your skin will,
indeed, prevent most blood-sucking insect "bites." Thyme, rosemary,
basil and some of the scented geraniums, for example, work for some people.
They do that primarily by masking the body's own natural
"attractants"—expelled carbon dioxide, and overheated, sweaty skin
that could stand more frequent bathing. No
plant emits or expels repellent into the air unless its leaf surfaces are
vigorously disturbed (and who wants to stand out there constantly knocking and
banging into a plant to release the "repellant" oils, anyway?). None of them have any effect
whatsoever on biting or stinging insects beyond the actual surface of their
example: Tansy is supposed to repel ants...so, more than a few garden
wise-guys (or -girls) will tell you to mix Tansy among other plantings. Why
then, if it's supposed to keep the ants away, are there ants
crawling all over the very plant they're supposed to be repelled by? Unadulterated
bunk. Well, yes, if you crush or blenderize tansy leaves and splatter the
solution around, ants will avoid the treated area. That, however, is an
entirely different story.
There is some
small hope, however. I'm reminded of a bit of wisdom passed on to me by the late
Philip White of Hermitage Garden in Monroe, Maine: "You see,"
as he pointed to pollen which frequently clung to the end and sides of his
nose, "a bee will never sting anything that smells like a
flower!" Philip would also occasionally bend to one knee, rub his
hands vigorously on creeping thyme, then transfer the strong, herbal fragrance
to his face, ears and neck. Black flies and mosquitoes rarely came near him.
Surprisingly, he was never stung—even though a large, very active, paper wasp
nest nearly brushed the top of his tall countenance every time he came and
went through the doorway of his tiny—almost elfin—shop. Pollen? Charisma? Character? Spunk? I
guess we'll never know for sure. He's gone now...and never revealed the real
It is entirely
believable that because Philip likely established a non-threatening, non-adversarial relationship between
himself and the wasps, hornets, bees and biting flies, that their mutual
respect for one another maintained territorial bounds. Don't pooh-pooh the
concept! It's been done before....and pretty well documented, at that.