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Botany Photo of the Day
In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.

Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis

Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis

Thanks to Jackie Chambers for another of her "global gardens" images (and accompanying write-up). Jackie writes:

Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, or Buddha's hand, is an unusual member of the citrus family. The varietal name sarcodactylis is from the Greek sarkos meaning "fleshy" and dactylos meaning "finger". These graceful, fleshy fingers appear to gesture and invite you in for a closer look at this curious fruit.

The finger citron, as it is also sometimes called, has fruit that can range from 10-25cm long. The fruit starts out green, then turns yellowish-orange when ripe. It is composed of 5-20 finger-like segments, and the arrangement of these segments can vary -- the "fingers" can be held in a closed position like the one pictured above, or the segments can be more widely spread apart.

The technical term for a citrus fruit like this one is a hesperidium, which is defined as a modified berry with a tough rind. The external layer of rind is called flavedo, and contains pigments and pits with essential oils - contributing to the strong lemony scent of the rind. Read more about citrus fruit terminology via Wikipedia.

The interior of Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis is composed entirely of white pith or albedo -- there is no juicy pulp. The albedo is edible, and unlike other Citrus, this pith is not bitter to taste. This means the "fingers" may be eaten peel, pith and all. The strong scent of the rind makes it useful as a zest for flavoring and it is also candied (read some recipes and more related information).

Not only is the fruit used for eating, but in some parts of Asia, the rind is used in households as an air freshener because of its strong fragrance. The fruit is also used as offerings in religious ceremonies where the "closed hand" arrangement of segments is the preferred offering, as it said to more closely resemble a hand held in prayer.

Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis is a small tree or shrub, between 2-5 m in height, and, like many citrus, it has spines in the leaf axis. The leaves are oval in shape and 10-15 cm long. The flowers, ranging from white to pinkish purple, are held in fragrant clusters. For more photographs of the plant and fruit, see University of California Riverside's Citrus Variety Collection page on Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis.

Citrus species have been in cultivation for thousands of years which makes exact origins difficult to define. It is suggest they were initially understorey trees in the forests of southeast Asia and that Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, in particular, may have originated in northwestern India.

Botany / photography resource link (thanks again to Hannah Bottomley, who contributed the BPotD on infrared-emitting conifers); Hannah writes: I interviewed a professor when I was in France who was in charge of digitizing the incredible lifework of an avid pharmacist/botanist. It is a very extensive herbarium, with plant specimens collected over the span of over 40 years (1861-1907), and is still the main reference for botanists in that region today. The quality of the images are amazing, and there is a zoom tool which allows you to see the plants in remarkable detail. He showed me the whole process of creating this digital collection -- he has accomplished truly amazing work.

If you would like to check out this herbarium, the link is here: Herbier Tourlet. To go through an alphabetical index of plants, click on Listes des plantes. Or if have a specific plant in mind, click on Recherche de plantes and type in the Latin name. Once you do, you'll see a large image on the right - notice the zoom to the bottom left of this larger image -- when you click on zoom, a new window will pop up, and you can keep clicking on the image to zoom in further and further. I also love that there is a red navigation box to orient you as to where you are! The small images on the bottom left are all the other specimens that were collected of that particular species.

19 Comments

I truly enjoy this daily dose of Botany. I investigate some of the links, send it along to friends around the world to see if they have seen these plants. This is an amazing resource.

very cool!

And where are the seeds? Is this a plant that is reproduced only by vegetative means? Did it once produce seeds but the polydactyl form was selected out over thousands of years and the seed-producing forms are exinct?

Never saw or even heard of this fruit before this evening and in the space of two hours it appears here and on a Food Network show (Alton Brown's "Good Eats"). Cool.

Where do i get the seeds of this plant? Are anybody have the seeds of this plant? Pls. let me know THANKS.

Surely this is a cultivar, not a botanical variety? As Eric in SF points out, no seeds, it can't reproduce in the wild, so has to be of cultivated origin.

Wow. Without reading, I would have thought those were peppers. Instead they are citrus! I think the common names are hilarious, finger citron and Budda's hand. Is it sold in the US, or would I have a hard time finding it for a recipe?

I bought two of these at the local fine food store, hoping for seed but alas none.
There are several sources of plants including Logees on the east coast.

I made candied buddha's hand that took a bit of work (mostly time boiling the syrup) that was wonderful!

Thanks for the BPotD! fascinating!

Wow, the Herbier Tourlet photos are great! I love the photography links. I learn something, and often many, new things every posting.

Thanks Daniel.

There are two known varieties of this Citron
that have pulp, albeit not very much in one
of them. From the Hodgson Horticultural
Varieties of Citrus, page 556 offprint from the
Citrus Industry Vol.I,

"There appear to be two clones—one in which all the
fruits are deeply fingered and lacking in flesh development
and seeds, the other in which only part of the fruits are
fingered and the rest are corrugated, lacking in flesh,
and contain seeds hanging free in the locules. Both
are typical acid citrons in all other respects and would
seem to constitute clonal varieties rather than the
botanical variety sarcodactylis as they are classified
by Swingle (see chap. 3, this work)."

just saw these for the first time a couple weeks ago in the local organic food store next to the comically understated id tag: "Lemons". caused quite a stir among shoppers the produce department!

was wondering what in the world their real story was-- wonderful to run into them again here!!

the text comment "see University of California Riverside's Citrus Variety Collection page" is followed by a link whose underlying url is

http://www.citrusvariety.ucr.edu/citrus/buddha.html

which in turn contains a link for a budwood source

http://www.ccpp.ucr.edu/variety/369.html

I've just found a pair of free cast iron park bench end pieces set out near a local community garden. One of these Buddha's fingers in a container would be lovely next to it.

What a great page. Something for everyone. I checked out the recipes. Does anyone know if it might be available in Chinatown in NYC?

So these are reasonably available? Surprised I've never seen one before!

The plants are readily available here in eastern Australia. They are sold more as an ornamental fruit tree. I am amazed at the variety of uses actually because the fruit, however cool the shape, does not come across as appealing! Then again you can eat the jug of some Nepenthes and I doubt I'd think of that looking at the plant :}
The two clone theory does explain the difference in shape of the fruit. They are definitely cutting grown or at times grafted.

i live in florida and have yet
to see one but then we only
know about tropicana in this town

a person can spend a lot of time
with the botanical images just fine

if the above were to be on the market
at christmas would they be called
santa claws


What a plant! amazing, anyone know of a Canadian source for a cutting or a plant?

You can most likely find it in one of NYC's Chinatowns. I saw it at Fairway two weeks ago, and Balducci's carries it. The fruits are known variously in Chinese as five finger mandarin (wu zhi gan), fragrant citron (xiang yuan), and fingered citron (zhi yuan).

Most comprehensible over view of C. medica var sarcodactylis. It will be good to have the same with other specimen.

Thank you

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