Roger’s Tree Pick: Lemon citron tree

Over the span of my horticultural career, my eye has always been on the lookout for the unique, rare, and bizarre in plants with novel form, shape, color, fruits, and drought tolerance. So what does that say about my garden? Yes it’s a botanical collection to say the least.

An unusual fruit-bearing tree this time of the year is citrus medica var sarcodactylis with a common name of Buddha’s Hand. The fruit’s shape is a collection of wild finger-like appendages that’s like a hand or a yellow bursting star from another horticultural galaxy.

It’s in the citrus family and should be grown and tended like other citrus with full sunlight, good soil drainage and air movement around it, but bear in mind this citrus is cold sensitive, so don’t plant it in low, frosty cold inland valleys.

It flowers in spring along with other types of citrus and in late winter to early spring these ornamental fruits appear to dress the tree with a very novel appearance. The fruit does not contain much pulp or juice but the fingers can be peeled, diced into segments and candied as a treat. It is actually the culinary awards that are great when you require a little lemon zest for your own homemade dishes

When I make my favorite lemon chiffon pie, I use Meyer’s lemons for the juice within the curd and add some citron for a little added punch; just before I place the pie into the oven, I garnish the whipped chiffon with citron flakes.

The fruit is very aromatic and when brought into the home add a wonderful lemony jasmine-like perfume that weaves through the air from room to room.

In the Hebrew faith, the “Etrog” citrons are brought into the home and used at various holidays and ceremonies when in season.

I once planted some red Italian terra cotta containers with fruiting citrons for a client and they were used to line the aisle for a garden wedding up in the Los Angeles area many years ago and were quite striking. Afterwards the trees were planted out in the garden for the family to have on hand for fresh citrons right off their own tree.

In China, the Buddha’s citron symbolizes happiness and long life. Whereas in Japan it is a popular gift for the New Year, for it is believed to bestow good fortune on a household.

The fruits are hard to find in the produce section of your market, but you’ll have better luck at some of the local farmers markets, or grow your own. Beautiful trees are available at Maddock Nursery in Fallbrook and are in fruit now.

Roger Boddaert Tree Man of Fallbrook can be contacted at (760) 728-4297.

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