Lemongrass is a pungent herb that is used often in Asian cooking. If you’ve never seen lemongrass growing, you could be wondering if the plant is actually a tree. So, is there such a thing as a lemongrass tree?
Lemongrass is not a tree. It’s a hardy, grass-type plant from which you harvest the thickened stems that are so popular in cooking. The botanical name for lemongrass is Cymbopogon citratus. This plant forms a clump that can grow up to 8 feet tall. So, there is no such thing as a lemongrass tree.
Although a clump of lemongrass can get quite large, it is not a tree but a true grass species. That’s why the common name given to the plant is lemongrass.
However, if you’re looking for some type of tree that will produce fruits or leaves with a similar taste that you get from lemongrass, here are a few to try.
Lemon Tree (Citrus limon)
Almost every gardener has grown or knows someone who is growing a lemon tree. It’s probably one of the world’s favorite fruit trees. Lemon trees will grow quite successfully in most areas that have temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).
Lemon trees are easy to care for and just require plenty of water, regular fertilizing, and a good prune to retain the tree’s shape. Without too much fuss, the humble lemon tree will provide plenty of juicy lemons for you to enjoy.
Lemon trees can even be grown in large pots. This is ideal if you live in a cold climate and you receive a lot of frosts and snow during winter. If this is the case, you can bring your lemon tree indoors during the colder months and take it back out once spring arrives.
If you use the zest (skin) from the lemons that you harvest, you’ll get a flavor that’s similar to lemongrass. In cooking, you can substitute around ½ teaspoon of lemon zest for each stalk of lemongrass.
Lime Tree (Citrus hystrix)
Lime trees have become almost as popular as lemon trees for backyard gardeners. These lovely trees need around 6 to 8 hours of sunlight on a daily basis and prefer well-draining soil.
For those with smaller outdoor spaces, lime trees can are even available as dwarf varieties. These are ideal for growing in pots which means you can move them around outside to chase the sun.
Like lemon trees, lime trees prefer a temperature above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). So, if you live in an area with cold winters, it’s best to grow this in a pot and bring it indoors during the colder months.
Lime trees are also heavy feeders, so they’ll need a regular application of fertilizer. This should be rich in nitrogen. If you’re using a liquid feed, once a month is sufficient. However, you can also use a granular fertilizer or matured compost and top this up every couple of months.
You can use the zest of the lime fruit the same way that you would use lemon zest. It doesn’t have quite as strong a flavor as lemongrass. However, the flavor is still most enjoyable when you don’t have any lemongrass on hand.
If you’re lucky enough to be growing a Kaffir lime, you can even use the leaves on the tree as a substitute for lemongrass. Harvest some leaves from the tree and chop them up into ribbons. Use around 3 to 4 leaves as a substitute for one stalk of lemongrass.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
Although not actually a tree, lemon verbena can be grown as a deciduous woody shrub. It is native to South and Central America and grows best in USDA zones 8 to 10. In other areas, it can be grown in a container and brought indoors during the winter months.
This plant is dormant throughout the winter, so it requires minimal care during this time. Once the warm weather arrives, it should be taken back outside and placed in a sunny spot. Fertilize your plant every two weeks from spring through to fall.
The leaves from the lemon verbena plant can be used as a substitute for lemongrass in your cooking. You only need to use two leaves to substitute for one stalk of lemongrass. It’s best to put the whole leaves into your dish and then remove them before serving.
Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
The lemon myrtle is native to Australia, and both the flowers and leaves are edible. It has the most delicious lemon fragrance, especially in the heat of the day or after rain. When grown in ideal condition, this tree can grow to a height of around 26 feet (8 m). However, if grown in a pot, it’s unlikely to reach this height. Plus, the growth can be controlled with regular pruning to keep the tree to a more manageable size.
This tree does prefer a warm climate but can be grown in a pot in areas where the winters are very cold. The tree requires regular watering when it’s young but becomes more hardy once it matures. Obviously, if you want to grow this in a pot, you have to ensure that you give it regular water.
It’s a good idea to apply some liquid fertilizer every two or three weeks to encourage strong growth. It’s also a good idea to keep the tree well-pruned as this will encourage it to become bushier with more of those deliciously scented leaves.
The leaves of the lemon myrtle can be used in the same way that you would use kaffir lime leaves. However, it’s important to note that prolonged cooking will diminish the lemon flavor, and you might be left with a eucalyptus flavor instead. Therefore, it’s best to use lemon myrtle in dishes that don’t require a long cooking time.
If you would like to know more about this interesting topic, please check out the complete guide I wrote about growing lemongrass.