Buddha Hand or Fingered Citron
(Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis)
Buddha Hand Citron tree overview:
The intriguing shape of the fruit is truly amazing and the fragrance is awesome. However, the tree requires a few specific growing conditions to thrive.
Buddha Hand Citron fruit appearance:
- A Buddha Hand Citron tree full of fruit is a stunning sight.
- The many segments branching from the fruit has been likened to a hand, and thus the plants name.
- The fruit is purple when small, turning green as it grows and is very bright yellow when ripe.
- The fruit ranges in size from about 6 inches to 12 inches in length.
Buddha Hand Citron fruit season:
UC Riverside states that the fruit season is November to January. I guess that is the main season, the ones in my yard have been producing and flowering nearly continuously since they were planted 2 years ago.
- The Buddha Hand Citron tree structure is similar to other citrus, but a bit more open in its growth habit.
- Overall it is the size of a large shrub or a small tree.
- The leaves are larger than most other citrus trees and a bit rippled.
- However, the remarkable appearance of the fruit is what really makes this plant stand out. The multi-fingered hand-like fruit produces a fascinating if not macabre picture. The fruit hanging from the tree amazes just about everyone who sees it in my back yard.
- The aromatic flowers are pink and white and about 2x the size as the average citrus flower.
- The young leaves are also purple; similar to young lemon leaves.
- I have read that some people just plant this citron in the ground without much fanfare. However, I have not had any previous luck with this Laissez-faire method of fruit tree planting.
- Therefore, I did what has worked for me in the past; I aggressively augmented the soil with grow mulch/compost, and inoculated with Micorriza. Click here for the planting method that I have used with great success.
- The Buddha Hand Citron tree needs well draining soil.
After the tree is established, I water 2-3x a week in the summer. However, watering schedules will change through the season and depending on your particular micro-climate. That being said, don’t let the Buddha Hand Citron dry out- the tree does not seem to be forgiving of arid soil. Covering the ground around the base of the tree with a good layer of wood mulch will help retain moisture.
Prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade.
I haven’t found much information about fertilizing the Buddha Hand Citron tree. However, I fertilize it the same way I do the rest of my citrus and it seems happy.
- This is a temperate loving plant.
- Very frost sensitive.
- Keep it out of low areas in your yard where cool air can collect.
- However, the tree is also sensitive to intense heat and drought. So it is a bit of a Goldilocks tree.
- All of that being said, the tree seems to do well in southern California if you are mindful of the above issues.
- For more information about the lowest temperatures that you can expect in your area, check out my article “Climate Zones: What can I grow in my yard?”
- The only major pest I have seen so far is the Citrus Leafminer. Click here to see my post about the diagnosis and treatment of Citrus Leafminer.
- However, I suspect that the citron is also vulnerable to the usual suspects (aphids etc).
- I deter the ants which often bring the aphids with Tanglefoot. However, don’t apply Tangle Foot directly to the bark because the thin bark of citrus can be easily damaged this way. Create a skirt of masking tape around the trunk of the tree (with the sticky-side out) or buy the Tanglefoot guard paper wrap. Then add the Tanglefoot on that skirt/paper.
Buddha Hand Citron Fruit Use:
In the western culinary world, the fruit is mainly used for its aromatic rind. The rind makes a great zest, much better than lemon in my opinion. Specific culinary usages range from flavoring savory dishes, desserts and vodka.
The inside of the fruit is composed almost entirely the white stuff (pith) that you see between an orange rind and orange flesh. However, here the white stuff is much firmer and has been called solid albedo. There is really nothing juicy in there. No seeds either. However, you can eat this white stuff inside after you remove the bitter outer yellow rind. The albedo has a very mild floral flavor and is on the dry side. None the less, it can be cut in slices to add some texture to salads, etc.
The fruit is pulled apart into individual fingers, dried and candied. This candied fruit is a popular snack throughout Asia.
Many simply use the fruit as an air freshener for the car or home-doubling as a conversation piece. The citron smell that is released from the fruit is a delight. The aroma reminds me of the cereal fruity pebbles and fruit loops, without the artificial overtones. Others say it smells like violets.
The plant has a long history in China where it is highly prized because it symbolizes long life hand happiness. In Japan, the fruit is a popular gift at New Year’s because it’s believed to bring good fortune to a home.
The fruit is sometimes given as an offering in Buddhist temples. The fruit with a closed hand configuration is the most valued for offerings because in this state it resembles the Buddhist hand gesture for prayer.
In Asia, it has been prescribed as a tonic as part of traditional medicine.
This fingered citron is thought to be the oldest cultivated citrus.