The citronella tree (Citronella mucronata) is native to Chile. It is an evergreen, and an aromatic tree, which can grow up to about 30 feet tall with a diameter of about three feet. The citronella tree has dark gray bark and oval-shaped leaves, and it bears whitish-yellow flowers that are noted for their fragrance. It also produces spherical-shaped purple fruit. Citronella mucronata is considered to be an ornamental tree.
In addition to “Citronella mucronata,” this tree is known by several other names, including guillipatagua, huillipatagua, naranjillo, patagua and pataguilla. There is some disagreement as to its family classification. Some sources classify it under the Icacinaceae family, and others consider it part of the Cardiopteridaceae family.
In Chile, the citronella tree is generally found along the country’s central coast and in the Andes. It grows in areas of high humidity and constant rain. It is mostly found on steep slopes, and usually in shaded places where there is protection from direct sunlight. The citronella tree can tolerate low temperatures down to about minus 8 degrees C, and can even survive occasional snow. It is cultivated as a shade tree. Its wood is used for fuel and for paper pulp.
The citronella tree was first discovered and noted around 1782 by two Spanish botanists and pharmacists named Hipolito Ruiz and Jose Pavon, who were working on a classification project commissioned by King Charles III of Spain (reigned 1759 to 1788).
In the United Kingdom
During the 1800s, Citronella mucronata was introduced to England, when the 4th Earl of Ilchester, a noted plantsman, added it to the Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in Dorset. The 20-acre gardens are close to the sea, and house an impressive collection of exotic trees and plants from Chile, the Himalayas and other parts of the world.
The 3rd Earl of Ilchester laid the foundation for the gardens when he built walls on the land that surrounds these gardens. Today, this private garden collection includes over 5,000 different tree and plant species. Happily, the gardens are still owned by the Earls of Ilchester (also known as the Fox-Strangeways family). The family continues to maintain these beautiful gardens.
One way to learn more about Citonella mucronata is by visiting Chile to explore the central coast areas where this exotic tree grows in profusion. If it is not possible to travel to Chile, consider reading the accounts of others who have been there, and who have posted detailed reports of their observations on websites like Trekkingchile.com.