Hitting mosquitoes on the nose with scents that repel


Garlic produces purple flowers and repels mosquitoes.

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Published: Friday, March 21, 2014 at 5:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 21, 2014 at 5:49 p.m.

Venture outdoors to enjoy the warmer weather, and you may encounter the first signs of Floridians' dreaded nemesis.

Facts

If you go

What: Spring Garden Festival
Where: Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, 4700 SW 58th Drive
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $8 adults, $5 children ages 2-13 (a $2 discount will be given to members of Kanapaha; cash only)

Mosquitoes are returning, thirsty for blood and eager to annoy those who are not prepared. If you have not given thought to how you'll defend yourself and your family this season, the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens might have the solution for you.

Guests at this weekend's Spring Garden Festival will each receive two or three bulbs of Society Garlic, said Don Goodman, the gardens' executive director. The bulbs, which have been overwhelming the geometric pattern of the Knot Garden due to their height, are more than just a gift to the festival's patrons — they are a natural mosquito repellent.

Society Garlic, an ornamental evergreen species, repels mosquitoes due to its garlic scent, Goodman explained. The smell is not overwhelming, but it's enough to keep mosquitoes at a distance of about 20 feet.

"Somebody with a better sense of smell than me can walk by the plant and get a very, very faint sense of garlic," Goodman said. "It's not offensive at all. It's actually very nice, but the mosquitoes can't stand it."

The bulbs produce attractive purple flowers in the summer, and expand in large clumps after being planted. These bunches grow so large, Goodman said, that Kanapaha's own collection to be given away is estimated at 20,000 bulbs.

"Once you've put (Society Garlic) in," he said, "you've got a lot of it."

Kanapaha's garlic gift is just one of numerous natural ways to keep pests away this mosquito season.

Goodman also suggested adding garlic oil in standing water to kill larvae and fend off adult mosquitoes. Citronella bracelets or candles do the trick, too.

Natural repellents, including oils found in citronella and geranium plants, have proven to be effective, although researchers don't exactly know why, said Ulrich Bernier, a research chemist for the USDA Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology's Mosquito and Fly Research Unit.

"Our best guess is mosquitoes find contact with those compounds irritating," Bernier said. "If you put your hand down on a hot stove, you're going to pull your hand away. It's almost a similar response (in mosquitoes), only with an uptake in terms of taste. Their systems are picking up the compound and reacting in a way we don't quite understand yet."

The city sprays pesticides, which Bernier said are relatively safe for humans and animals, to control mosquito populations. However, when venturing out on your own, using a personal repellent is important.

But everyday repellents, such as DEET, may not be a desirable option for people seeking more natural remedies.

Gloria Starita, owner of Hawthorne's Jade & Pearl, was one such resident who did not want to expose her body to DEET's chemicals, so she created her own all-natural solution — Beat It!

"If you're using something like this every single day, and it's a neurotoxin," Starita said, "you have to think about how much you're ingesting because your skin is your largest organ. Anything you put on it goes into your other organs."

Similar to Society Garlic, Beat It! repels mosquitoes and other pests through smell. While people may enjoy it's lemony scent, mosquitoes avoid it.

It's a small step toward more natural solutions to mosquitoes, but it's a step in the right direction as far as Starita sees it.

"The world is so toxic right now," she said. "So, if you can make a choice to lessen the toxicity that you're using, this is really a simple thing."

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