Cymbopogon ambiguus

scent grass


Cymbopogon ambiguus

(Hack.) A.Camus 1921

pronounced: kim-buh-POH-gon am-BIG-oo-uss

(Poaceae — the grass family)


common names: scent grass, native lemon grass

native 4Cymbopogon comes from two Greek words, κυμβη (kymbé), a boat, and πωγων (pogon), a beard, referring to the beardlike appearance of the inflorescences, and the boat-shaped spathes; ambiguus is a Latin word with several meanings, among them: going hither and thither; changeable; ambiguous.

The genus consists of tufted perennials with leaves and shoots that are aromatic (often lemon-scented) when crushed. The inflorescences are panicles of short paired racemes each subtended by a reddish spatheole. The spikelets are in pairs, one sessile and one pedicelled. Australia has 11 species of this genus.

Cymbopogon ambiguus grows to about 1.5 m tall. Its inflorescence is greenish, and the spikelets are not completely covered with the woolly hairs. As well as being seen in several ‘native’ gardens on Magnetic Island, I have noticed quite a few stands of this grass on the Picnic Bay side of Hawkings Point. It grows widely throughout Australia except in the cool temperate regions.

This has been for thousands of years, and still remains, an important medicinal plant for indigenous peoples in central Australia. The leaves are crushed and inhaled for head colds and chest complaints. The leaves and roots are crushed and infused in water and either drunk in small amounts or rubbed on the body to treat most forms of aches, pains and inflammation.

It is interesting to note that this is one of the few central Australian medicinal herbs that is taken internally. A team of researchers from the Institute for Glycomics at Griffiths University, NSW, has recently published the results of a 5-year research project into Native Lemon Grass. The team, led by Dr Darren Grice, worked with samples of the grass collected around Alice Springs. They discovered that the plant contains eugenol, a bioactive compound that proved to be a powerful agent (“as potent as aspirin”) in combating headaches and migraines.

The grass is extremely drought-hardy and fire-tolerant, to be expected from a species adapted to the central Australian desert. It typically grows on rocky hillsides, so it is no surprise to find it growing on Hawkings Point.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2010, the Forts walk 2015
Page last updated 6th December 2018