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Buddha Hand Citron: growing this amazing tree

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.

Ripe Buddha Hand citron

Buddha Hand or Fingered Citron Tree (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis)

 

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

Ripening Buddha Hand Citron Fruit; turning from green to yellow

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.

Buddha Hand Citron flowering

Buddha Hand Citron flowers

Landscaping use: 

  • 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.
Growing Buddha hand citron fruit.

Macabre looking unripe-green Buddha hand citron fruit.

 

Soil:

  • 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.

Water:

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.

 

Sun:

Prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade.

 

Fertilization: 

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.

Buddha Hand/Fingered Citron Tree with fruit

Buddha Hand/Fingered Citron Tree: Closer view

Temp:  

  • 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?”

 

Pests: 

 

Buddha Hand Citron Fruit Use:

Zest:

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 insides:

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.

Candied:

The fruit is pulled apart into individual fingers, dried and candied.  This candied fruit is a popular snack throughout Asia.

Air freshener:

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.

Gift:

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.

Religious offering:

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.

Medicine:

In Asia, it has been prescribed as a tonic as part of traditional medicine.

Misc:

This fingered citron is thought to be the oldest cultivated citrus.

About Thomas Osborne, MD

Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuroradiologist who loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

35 comments

  1. The hardest thing about this tree is finding one, I’ve been trying for years to get one.

  2. After I saw this fruit offered at a “Fresh Market” store I just had to try to buy a tree/plant. The only affordable place I found was Gurney’s Seed & Nursery Co. in Ohio. I bought 3 trees which will be shipped to me in Central Florida in early March, 2014. They will be very small but only cost $19.99 each. Hopefully this will be a fruitful purchase.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Art
      Thanks for the comment and congrats on the new trees.
      The trees are very cool, but hey can be fickle.
      And yea, that does sound like a decent price… if they are not too small.
      However, it is a bit strange to hear that they are coming from Ohio.
      Please keep us updated on your progress.
      Tom

    • After planting in March of 2014 all 3 trees are thriving so far here in Central Florida. One has finally produced a pink bloom, hopefully the precursor to fruit. I have each of them planted in a 12″ pot so they can be easily moved inside during cooler weather to come.

      • Thomas Osborne, MD

        Hey Art.

        Congrats!
        Congrats on your growing success and your first Buddha hand blossom.

        Side thought:
        Since you live in central Florida, I would think that it would be warm enough to plant your Citron directly in the ground (if you want).
        (In general, plants are usually happier when they are in the ground and therefore you might get more fruit that way too).
        If you do get an odd cold spell, you can always put a frost cloth bag over the tree.

        Climate Zones:
        I recently wrote an article that has all kind of specific info on the topic. Check out, “Climate Zones: What can I grow in my yard

        Best,
        Tom

  3. After querying “citron fruit in Florida” I stumbled on this article, found it interesting and was further seeking to find someone in the vicinity who has a handle on the heartiness along with frost care here in zone 9 – I noticed Art Hoff purchased a few trees from a supplier in Ohio.

    I am curious to know how that has worked out. Now, back to the investigation~! Here are a few attached relative articles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukkothttp://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/citron.html

    Keep me advised and thanks~!

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Thanks for the note Tim.

      Great question:

      Regarding Ohio supplier: That grower must be working in a hot house. There is no way citrus could survive outside during an Ohio winter.

      According to what I have read, the Citron seem to be more fickle than most citrus. However, the Citrons that I have growing here in SD are growing great with no frost protection (and we do get an occasional frost). However, I planted the trees by some large grey stones that likely give off heat at night to help offset the cold.

      Best,
      Tom

    • The plants arrived about a month ago. I transplanted them to larger pots so I can bring them in if frost threatens. So far so good, all 3 are stable and growing.

      • Thomas Osborne, MD

        Awesome Art!
        Growing in pots is a bit more challenging, (soil moisture, soil temperature flux, fertilization amounts, getting root bound, etc).
        If you can make this work you are a master.

        Side thoughts:
        -The bigger the size of the container, the less there are of these issues. But then (as I am sure you know) the harder to move a big container and find space for if you move inside.
        -Using organic fertilizer will be more forgiving when you are growing in containers. However, many of these organic fertilizers stink and are not suited for inside the house… But then again, you likely wont be fertilizing in the winter-inside anyhow.
        -Dwarf varieties tend to do better in containers.

        Also:
        I was growing all kinds of stuff in containers for a while… until I couldn’t take it anymore and then moved to a warmer location.
        Then I planted all of my minions that I collected directly into the ground.

        I look forward to hear about your success.
        Thanks for the update.

  4. My father went away on holiday and left me to
    Look after his hand of Buddha, it’s got 5 leaves left on it I don’t want to kill it. I live in England, Uk. can’t leave it outside as it’s freezing so it’s inside where it’s warmer, will it be ok?
    How can I get it growing again?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Louisa
      Thanks for the question.
      So yea, you definitely do not want to leave the Citron out in the cold.

      Specifically:
      I would find a nice warm sunny spot in the house that dosen’t get drafty.
      The sunnier the better.
      Also: I would not put it next to the fire place or stove either. These things can be fickle.
      Keep the citron soil moist but not waterlogged. Don’t let it sit in a saucer full of water.
      Cold air sinks, so it will be warmer if it is off the floor… at least a little bit off the floor.

      Overall:
      Basically, if you had to sit in only one place in the house all day, where would you be most comfortable.
      The answer to that would likely be your best option for the Citron.

      Hope this helps,

      Best,
      Tom

      • Thanks for the help, well it’s warm in the house all the time and it’s in a pot so I will have to keep and eye on how
        much water I give it. There is not much sun these days or natural light can I leave the light on too?

        • Thomas Osborne, MD

          Yea, having extra light on it during the day wouldn’t hurt as long as the light bulb is not so close as to cook the leaves.
          Turn the light off at night so the plant can rest.
          A light timer might make it easier if you are going down that rout.

  5. It’s still not doing too great. Does it need feeding? And if so what do I recomend I use? My friend suggested that cats urine is suppose to be good for it?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      I am sorry to hear that the Buddha hand is not doing well. They are fickle plants and may not do well inside even in the best of situations.

      However, if the plant is declining in the conditions you described (in the winter, inside, in a pot)… fertilizer is not going to help and it will likely accelerate its early death.
      Fertilizer is tricky with any potted plant and this plant is fickle to begin with.

      And definitely do not use cat urine! That is way to strong for most plants esp this one.
      So if I were you… I would try to replicate (as best you can) the conditions outlined in the post/article.

      I would also closely inspect the plant to see if you have any bugs on it like scale, aphids, etc.
      Those sap suckers like to hide out at the bottoms of leaves or at the origins of branches.

      Good luck.

      T

  6. EXCELLENT ARTICLE, I HAVE BEEN SEARCHING FOR THE BUDDHA HAND TREE FOR A LONG TIME, I LIVE IN FLORIDA, DUE TO THE AGRICULTURAL RULES AND REGULATION CAN THE TREE BE PURCHASED OUT SIDE THE STATE, FROM ANY OHTER STATE? OR ANY BODY KNOWS WHERE CAN I FIND IT IN FLORIDA?
    PLEASE REPLAY

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Great question Rosa Maria

      I am personally not an expert on Florida agricultural laws.
      However, one of the most talked about issues right now is Citrus Greening (Huanglongbing). This is an infection that is hitting Florida citrus very hard. The main goal for other states like California is to keep the disease out. So Florida trees are not coming into California.

      For your specific question:
      Florida is trying to control the disease but it is an up hill battle.
      Here’s a link to some of the current regulations.
      http://www.crec.ifas.ufl.edu/extension/greening/regulations.shtml

      I found this contact number on the University of Florida website (number below). I am sure they would be happy to answer any related questions.
      “For more information on Florida citrus regulations, please contact the Division of Plant Industry 863-298-3000

  7. I saw a Buddha hand in a market, and checked with my local nursery for a tree. It was planted about 2 years ago in backyard that is fill on top of a rather basic(ph) underlayment. I do add some fertilizer occasionally, and all plants get regular water. Th fruit has been slow to set. This year I have 3 fruit at one time, but as before, they are all “Hand” with only small ‘fingers’ (1/4″-1/2″ length). Is this due to lack of maturity or did I get the wrong species?
    Thanks

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Interesting question Sam.

      There is some genetic variation between each tree even if they are propagated from cuttings.
      (On that note, most of the seedless orange sub-types are derived from a random genetic variation of a branch growing from a mother tree. These variant branches are then selected and grafted to make a different type of citrus).

      That being said, even on the same branch of my trees I see different looking fruit; Big, small, open hand, closed hand, etc. Hard for me to say what is the cause of this difference, perhaps pollination differences. but I am guessing.

  8. Hello,

    I’m so excited that I found this site! I received my Buddha’s Hand tree in the mail today and I couldn’t be happier with it. I’ve been actively searching for one for several yrs. now, but whenever I’ve found them at online nurseries they can’t ship them to California.

    I finally thought to search Amazon and Ebay and found a couple on Ebay. I went ahead and spent about 50 bucks for one, knowing full well I could easily be disappointed, but it turned out to be quite the opposite result. WOW, it’s about 3-4′ tall, the leaves are a rich, beautiful and healthy shade of green, it has several fruits on it, with fingers even! And also has flowers where more fruits should grow soon. The root system is fantastic, with thick, long roots, it has been planted in the ground or a pot, but was shipped bareroot and arrived in great shape.

    I am soaking it for a few hrs. in water before planting and came in to search on the internet for proper planting instructions before I start. I will be planting her (Goldilocks) in a 16″ pot first, if that doesn’t feel adequate once I begin I have a 20″ pot waiting for her as well :)

    We are located in Calif. right on the Oregon border, inland, in zone 7, so I will need to bring it in for winter before the frost hits. But this is the beginning of nice spring weather for us here right now so we’re just getting started. I’d suggest you put Buddha’s Hand Citrus into search on ebay and keep trying. They’re not very common.

    http://www.Logees.com also has a RARE and gorgeous variegated Buddha’s Hand!! I showed it to the gal I got mine from and she’s going to keep her eye out for some for me.

    Thanks for the enjoyable plant conversation Tom, I’m a plant freak too ;) Feel free to comment or email me with any questions. Best of luck in your searches!

  9. I live in the Palm Springs Desert area. I ordered a Buddha Hand tree several years ago from somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is now a big beautiful healthy citrus tree, protecting my Buddha statue. The big problem is, NO FRUIT and NO BLOSSOMS. Any and all recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

  10. Thanks for the article and sharing your passion for gardening!

    I used to think I’d never see a real Buddha’s Hand citron, and then one day I noticed them at a few nurseries locally. Wow.

    Recently, I bought one for my mom and then got one for myself. We’re both enjoying them (she has it a little easier being in Southern California, whereas I’m in Northern California). She sends me pictures of the fruit and I look forward to sharing my pics, too, when my tree produces!

    Best wishes, and thanks for a fun and informative blog.

    Ivan

  11. HELP. I was given this beautiful Buddha Hand as a Christmas Present 2013. It was doing well until early summer. I live in the south west of England. I put it outside with my other citrus plants in a warm sheltered spot. The leaves went brown and fell off. I brought it indoors. It sits in a warm sunny spot ,watered regular, but not to much. Leaves have grown again, the are no bugs on the plant, the fruit grows to about an inch long and fall off. It’s looking very sorry for itself.
    Can anyone help please.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Trish
      Sorry to hear about your Buddha Hand.

      It sounds like you are doing all of the right things in efforts to uncover the cause of your trees illness.
      It is a bit tricky to tell exactly what is going on without seeing your plant.
      However, I have a few ideas for you.

      A few diagnostic thoughts for you:
      A sudden change in the weather can send these trees in a tail spin.
      This is esp true for potted trees which are even more sensitive to changes than the already fickle Buddha Hand Citron tree.

      On that note, the roots of potted plants will experience more dramatic changes in temperature (from night to day) and this is esp true of plants in black pots.

      Somewhat related; potted plants dry out very very easily and this tree will not tolerate bone dry soil at all.
      Potted plants are also more sensitive to fertilizer issues.
      Finally, these trees can get root-bound easily… even if you do everything perfect, a root-bound tree will decline.

      Possible solution:
      The solution for you.. if this potting thing is part of the problem, (it almost always is) I would put your tree in a larger container.

      Of course this will make it harder to move inside during the winter, but there are some specific wheeled things (plant dolly) that you can get for the bottom of pots that might help you to move it around.
      Heres a link to the type of thing I am talking about below:
      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002TRQSYO/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B002TRQSYO&linkCode=as2&tag=tastylands-20&linkId=DHPC7SUKV34ACCCM“>Devault 3012B Plant Dolly, Black, 12-Inch””

      Good luck!
      Perhaps another reader can share some additional thoughts for you.

      Best,
      Tom

  12. I live in the Palm Springs, California area. I planted my two foot Buddha Hand tree (delivered from a Northern California nursery) about six or more years ago. The tree is very robust, but never any blossoms or fruit. Any suggestions? Thank you in advance. Edward

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Edward

      Thanks for the question.
      Your not alone-I hear this is a common problem.

      No flower:
      Ahh… one of the many mysteries of growing; why doesnt my plant flower and fruit?

      Overall, the primary reasons why a plant wont flower is that the plant is either too young, sick or the growing conditions are off somehow.

      Too young:
      Considering that your citron is only 2 fee tall, it might still be a bit young (unless it is an ultra dwarf variety).
      However, you did mention that your plant was 6 years old… and that seems like it would be old enough.

      Illness:
      You mentioned that the tree is very robust, so I am going to skip this discussion.

      Location, Location, Location:
      The next thing to work on is the living conditions.
      Considering you are in Palm Springs, you might have your tree in a container so you can bring it in during the cooler months.
      That is a great idea (on one hand) because these plants really dont like the cold.
      However, (on the other hand) they also dont like to live in containers much either.

      So now what?

      Container growing:
      If you are growing your citron in a container; the bigger the better.
      This can make it difficult to move it around/ However, a plant dolly can help.
      These plant dolly’s come in different sizes, here is an example of what I am talking about (see link below)
      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002TRQSYO/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B002TRQSYO&linkCode=as2&tag=tastylands-20&linkId=JOJJOBONENRLBGOY“>Devault 3012B Plant Dolly, Black, 12-Inchhttp://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000HHQNBG/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B000HHQNBG&linkCode=as2&tag=tastylands-20&linkId=OHN53KUDOMGVYXUA“>Dalen HG25 25′ X 5′ Harvest Guard Row Coverhttp://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CO5F324/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00CO5F324&linkCode=as2&tag=tastylands-20&linkId=KCSZD35PYFXVEYPS“>CITRUSGAIN 2lb Bag, Citrus Fertilizer, Citrus Plant Food””

      Hope this helps.

      Keep us posted!

      Best,
      Tom

  13. HELLO, I HAVE HAD MY BUDDAH HAND FOR 10 YEARS WITH GREAT SUCCESS
    AS A CHEF I USE IT MANY TIMES
    I CAME OUT TO WHERE IS HAS BEEN IN THE GROUND AND IT WAS ON IT’S SIDE EITHER A GOPHER OF MOLES GOT IT AM VERY SAD TO LOSE THIS BEAUTIFUL TREE

    QUESTION I TRIMMED IT DOWN PUTTING THE CUTTING IN WATER TO SEE IF I COULD START A NEW PLANT , NOW CAN I GRAFT IT ON TO A NEW PLANT? TO INSURE THE SAME SUCCESS I HAD WITH THE PARENT PLANT?
    I REPLANTED THE MAIN PLANT WITH NEW DIRT AND PLANT FOOD MAYBE IT WILL SPROUT ROOTS AGAIN
    I KNOW TO PUT NEW PLANT IN A CAGE BEFORE PLANTING IN THE GROUND
    BETTY I NEED A NEW PLANT PLEASE

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Chef Betty Ewing

      Thanks for the question.

      Bummer:
      I am very sorry to hear about the underground attack on your Buddha hand citron tree.
      That is a heartbreak that I have experienced too many times.
      In all likelihood it was a gopher and not a mole. Moles are looking for grubs and bugs. They do disrupt roots in the process but they do not intentionally eat a tree to death. Gophers on the other hand are vegetarians and roots are their bread and butter.

      Salvage:
      I have also tried to salvage the remains of a gopher kill. Like yourself, I have put the cut branches of a plant in water with hopes of salvaging something. This method does works for some plants. However, in many attempts, I have not had any success with this method when it comes to citrus trees. Overall, I dont think that citrus are programmed to grow directly from cuttings.
      Good luck and let us know if you somehow make it work.

      You should have more luck with grafting a branch of your citron onto another citrus. However, grafting is quite a skill and hot weather makes it even more challenging.

      Unfortunately, your best option may be to simply get another citron tree and start over.

      Chef:
      Please also let us know about your work as a chef and how you use the Buddha hand citron in your cooking.

      Best,
      Tom

  14. We had a Budas had in So Cal when we lived there and we had to leave it behind when we moved to Chicago as it is WAY to cold for it there. We recently moved to central Texas and was looking for one at all of the local nursery and n one carried it. I did a google search for the plant and I clicked on a link for citrus growers in TX and there was a gentleman who had a couple of them that were just maybe 18 inches tall so we decided to drive from San Antonio to Houston to pick up the plants. We got 1 fruit last year and we have 2 on the tree right now and hopefully now that we are in Austin (a bit cooler in the evenings) the plants seems to LOVE it and we have 15-20 new flowers on it as of today. I love this plant I have used the rind to make lemon pie, I sue some of the skin to flavor water like lemonade and it is great.

    What should we do about pruning the plant? Should we cut it back after the season? What is the best fertilizer to use on it?

    Marion

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