Backhousia citriodora

Lemon-scented myrtle

Family: Myrtaceae

A tree to about 8 metres tall, with a canopy to 5 metres or more wide.

It is endemic to Queensland, growing from about Brisbane to Mackay.

It grows in subtropical coastal rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests.

Backhousia have simple and opposite leaves, usually strongly odorous due to oil glands. In this species, they are lanceolate, to about 12 cm long and 2.5 cm wide, with prominent parallel venenation, somewhat leathery. mid to dark green with new leaves having light-green, purple to brown-red tones; smelling very strongly of lemon.

Flowers are generally 5-merous, with 5 petals and sepals, with 5 cream-white petals and 5 green sepals and with numerous cream stamens, with each flower about 1 cm across and produced in terminal clusters (dichasia or cyme-like), in spring to summer. 

Backhousia produce a dry capsule-like fruit which differentiates them from the other ‘lilly pillies’ (i.e., Syzygium and Acmena).

In the garden

Author’s notes:

This is a plant that should be growing in every one’s garden!

I have been growing this plant for about ten years, in my garden in the northern Sydney suburb of Westleigh. This plant will grow to eight to ten metres high in it natural environment and less the further south from Brisbane you are growing it. Backhousia citriodora apparently will grow as far south as Melbourne, if in a sheltered spot — a very adaptable plant.

My plant is about four metres high and two metres wide and produces masses of white fluffy flowers, in November to December. This plant is popular in cultivation for its bushy habitat, branches to ground level and strongly lemon scented leaves (that can be used in cooking).

My plant is mulched and is growing in a thin layer of topsoil over a clay sub soil. I have found it responds to well to native plant fertiliser during spring and in dry periods some additional watering. If pruning is required the ideal time is after flowering.

Backhousia citriodora makes a very attractive specimen or screen plant for your garden and will tolerate considerable sun as well as a variety of soils including poor clays. Well worth growing.


The easiest way to obtain new plants is to raise them from seed — pick the fruit when it is mature in March to May, sprinkle the seeds with some propagating mix and keep moist in a dappled light position. Cuttings are slow to strike, hence the use of seeds for a faster way to obtain plants.

Other information

This species is commonly used in cooking, the leaves can be used like Bay Laurel in dishes. The leaves are added to tea, both in fresh and dry form. Many culinary products are now made with thie species. 

This species grows in fire-prone environments and can likely regenerate from seed as well as coppicing growth from basal areas and epicormic shoots. 

Backhousia is a genus of 8 species, endemic to New South Wales and Queensland. NSW currently has 5 species.

Backhousia – named in honour of James Backhouse (1794 – 1869), a botanist and missionary for the Quaker Church in Australia.

citriodora – Latin – citri – referring to Citrus (in this case – Lemon) and –odora meaning “odour” or “fragrance” – for the pleasant lemon-smelling leaves of this species. 

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild. 

Australian National Herbarium – Backhousia citriodora profile page https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp14/backhousia-citriodora.html

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

Gardening with Angus – Backhousia citriodora profile page https://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/backhousia-citriodora-lemon-myrtle/

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.