“Unique”, “bizarre”, “amazing”, “what is that!” – these are all typical reactions when people first see the Buddha’s Hand Citron. This one-of-a-kind fruit never looks the same – each one is unique, with variations between every bush as well. The fruit is large, and divided into several narrow ‘fingers’. These are sometimes curled inwards like a closed hand, and sometimes flared outwards like an open one. The fruits are green when immature, but the mature fruit – which can be 9 inches long – is bright lemon yellow.
Is it a lemon? No, but it is a kind of citrus fruit, and an ancestor of the lemon, called a citron. Instead of having a thin skin and a juicy interior, the white part below the yellow skin takes up almost all the inside of the fruit, with just a tiny core. That doesn’t mean the Buddha’s Hand Citron is only good to look at. It has a powerful citrus smell, and it makes delicious tarts, cakes, marmalades, and flavored alcohols. It can also be candied for adding to fruit cakes. It has such a strong fragrance it will perfume the air in a room. You will have lots of uses for these fruits – once you have enjoyed their remarkable appearance.
Growing Buddha’s Hand Citron Trees
The tree that carries these exotic fruits is similar in appearance to other kinds of citrus trees. It is shrubby, or it may develop into a small tree, and grows to between 8 and 15 feet tall. The branches have long spines at the point where the leaves meet the stems. The leaves are evergreen, glossy and rich-green, with a strong smell of lemons. They are often large, between 3 and 7 inches long, and unlike most other citrus, they have small serrations along the edges. The amazing fruits develop from sweetly-scented white flowers that are produced several times a year, so that a tree can easily have green and yellow fruit, as well as flowers, all on it at the same time.
The Buddha’s Hand Citron is not one of the most cold-resistant citrus, and grows well outdoors only in zones 10 and 11. There it should be planted in a sunny place, in well-drained soil that is preferably slightly acidic. The soil should be well-drained and the plant should be watered regularly during the first one or two summers. After that it is moderately drought-resistant, but it will grow better with a regular supply of water.
Growing Indoors Using a Pot
Don’t despair if you live in a cooler place, as you can still enjoy this tree. It can be grown by anyone, anywhere, by placing it in a large pot and providing shelter from freezing temperatures over the winter months. The place you keep it during that time should be bright and well-lit, but it doesn’t have to be warm, no more than 40 or 45 degrees. Once the outside temperatures reach 45 to 50 degrees at night, it should be returned outdoors to a bright, sunny place, watered regularly as soon as the top inch of soil in the pot is dry.
Feed your potted tree with a fertilizer for flowering trees, or one formulated particularly for citrus (fertilizer numbers close to the ratio of 2:1:2 for N:P:K are best). Choose a large pot, with one or more drainage holes in it. Do not attempt to grow this plant in a pot without drainage. Use potting soil for outdoor planters, or a special citrus potting soil. The soil you use should drain well, so add some cactus mix if the potting soil you have is fine and slow-draining. Trees in pots will only grow 5 or 6 feet tall, and they can be kept smaller by trimming from time to time, as needed.
History and Origins of the Buddha’s Hand Citron
The Buddha’s Hand Citron is a unique variety of the citron fruit (Citrus medica). This ancestor of the lemon has an ancient history all across Asia, from Israel to China. Citron fruit is used in the Jewish ceremony of Sukkot. The Buddha’s Hand variety occurs naturally in China and the Far East, where it has been grown for centuries and the fruit is used as an offering in Buddhist temples. Our trees are grown from stem pieces that can be traced directly back to those ancient times, and they are attached to sturdy root systems from seedlings of other citrus, to make them strong-growing and healthy.