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Buddha’s hand seeds

Propagating Buddha’s Hand Citron

The distinctive yellow fruit of the Buddha’s Hand citron (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis) splits off from the stem into numerous pointed segments, giving it the appearance of a many-fingered hand. Native to southwestern China and northeastern India, this aromatic citrus plant thrives in U. S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 10 and 11, where it grows as a shrub or small tree, usually reaching heights of 6 to 12 feet. As Buddha’s Hand does not typically produce seeds, green thumbs propagate the plant from cuttings or buds.

Propagation from Cuttings

Like all citron trees, the Buddha’s Hand grows from cuttings. Cuttings, sized about 4 to 6 inches long, are taken from the branches of 2- to 4-year-old Buddha’s Hand trees and must be buried completely, with all or partial foliage intact. An optional IBA rooting treatment may benefit new cuttings, but is not required. You can take your own cuttings or purchase them at specialty garden centers or farmers markets, especially in California and Texas, where the Buddha’s Hand has attracted a small following.

Propagation by Budding

Buddha’s Hand may be grown via budding, a technique that takes a single bud from from the plant and grafts it onto a compatible host rootstock. Growers form Purdue University’s Department of Horticulture recommend budding Buddha’s Hand onto rough lemon, grapefruit, sour orange or sweet orange rootstock. However, Buddha’s Hand grown via budding do not typically reach the size attained by plants grown from cuttings. Some specialty garden centers also sell pre-grafted rootstock for propagating Buddha’s Hand, as well as young plants in pots.

Establishment and Environment

Growers typically establish Buddha’s Hand grafts or cuttings in containers indoors, planting them in general-use potting soil and keeping them in partial sun. New citron shrubs are planted in autumn and kept indoors until spring, when the soil is warm. New growth benefits from a weekly spraying of neem oil. Regardless of the propagation method, Buddha’s Hand citron requires a specific type of environment to flourish. Outdoors, this plant needs full sunlight exposure and well-drained soil. Although it is not picky about soil type, it needs well-aerated soil. An application of organic fertilizer during the plant’s first summer encourages growth, and organic mulch helps the plant retain moisture. Frost-sensitive Buddha’s Hand requires a frost-free growing environment.

Commercial and Historical Propagation

Although Chinese farmers have cultivated Buddha’s Hand for centuries and the plant reached Californian shores in the late 1800s, propagation in America remained a curiosity until the late 1980s, according to the University of California Riverside. In 2008, the same source reported about 5,000 acres of commercial cultivation in China compared to about 25 acres of commercial cultivation in California.

It’s Not a Mutant Lemon! Demystifying Buddha’s Hand

What is this gnarly fruit? Buddha’s Hand is an extremely fragrant type of citron that’s divided into finger-like sections and only consists of rind — there’s no pulp, juice, or seeds. Also known as fingered citron, Buddha’s Hand is believed to have originated in India and been brought to China by Buddhist monks. The fruit has long been prized in East Asia because it symbolizes happiness and longevity, and it’s often given as an offering in temples and served during Lunar New Year.

Buddha’s Hand wasn’t commercially grown in the U.S. until the 1980s, and according to Sunkist director of communications Joan Wickham, it’s still a “pretty special, niche program. We don’t even market Buddha’s Hand because the quantity grown is so small.” Even so, the curious-looking fruit seems to be popping up in more and more farmers’ markets and grocery stores across the country.

THE BASICS

Similar to other citrus, Buddha’s Hand trees take five to six years to come into production and are relatively low-maintenance. The fruit itself, however, is a different story. According to Wickham, before Buddha’s Hand makes it to a vendor, the fruits have to be hand-cleaned with a brush, a process that takes 15 to 20 minutes each, because cleaning the peel with water would cause them to spoil. The labor involved, plus the rarity of the fruit, means that Buddha’s Hand can get a little pricey once it hits stores — we’ve seen it run anywhere between $8 and $20 per pound. But the good news is that a little goes a long way!

BUYING AND STORING

Buddha’s Hand peaks in the winter months. When it first comes into season, the hand is closed, and the fingers look like the tentacles of an anemone. As the fruit matures, the hand spirals out like an octopus. No matter when you encounter them, always choose fruits with bright, fresh-looking skin and avoid any that have soft spots or weathered bits, which can be a sign that they’ve been on the shelf for a while. Buddha’s Hand can be stored on the counter for up to two weeks and should only be washed just before use.

TO USE AND COOK

The fruit works well in pretty much anything you would use lemon zest for, from pastas and salad dressings to alcohol infusions and cocktails (a Buddha’s Hand twist would elevate a Manhattan, Sazerac, French Martini, you name it!). Or try candying the fruit– the intense flavor will blow you away. Buddha’s Hand can also be used outside of the kitchen — it would make a dramatic addition to a fruit bowl or even a floral arrangement, and as a bonus benefit, perfume the whole house!