Tag Archives: Buddha’s Hand citron

Autumn serendipity

In the house, it may be spring cleaning, but the best time to clean out the greenhouse from stem to stern is in autumn. Well, it is in Texas, where we’re still seeing temperatures considered “balmy” in higher latitudes. It’s warm enough that I can clear out all of the tropical plants, check for spots that need to be clipped, and set them outside for a few hours , but it’s also cool enough that the usual pests are at a minimum. After this year’s horrible mosquito season, I enjoy any day where the smell of citronella tiki torch oil doesn’t get into my pores.

This sudden stripdown and rebuild was particularly important, as the greenhouse was underneath an aging and rapidly dying silverleaf maple, Silverleaf maples were a rather popular addition to many North Texas suburbs forty years ago, where they promised rapid growth and extensive shade. Well, both are true, but they also live about as long as our indigenous cottonwoods, and anybody in the area knows that you never want to encourage cottonwoods in your back yard. This silverleaf offered plenty of shade for the first two years we were here, but it was obvious that it was having problems after last year’s drought, where its companion planting didn’t make it. The tornadoes in April only compounded matters, and it’s now become a wreck. The tree’s heartwood is now nothing but punk wood and fungus, the dead branches produce a never-ending fall of sawdust from boring beetles, and the live ones threaten to fall if you look at them cross-eyed. I regret not being able to leave it alone, but either it comes down, or it takes the whole adjoining house with it, and possibly a neighbor’s house as well. Sic transit gloria.

In order for the tree to come down, the greenhouse had to come down and relocate, and that’s where the joy came in. Last summer, I learned exactly why nobody ever uses citrus wood when examining my Buddha’s Hand citron: one of the branches that died during the 2011 freeze had sprouted a single water shoot before it expired, and now the rather larger branch was hanging onto its roots by a sliver of tissue and a handful of dry rot. Pull out the rooting hormone, starter trays, and lots of rich potting mix, and start setting cuttings. Surprisingly, more cuttings survived than died, and if the state department of agriculture gives a full approval that these are disease-free, they might be up for sale within the state of Texas next year. Of course, that’s also dependent upon what sort of winter we have this year, so I’m not saying anything else.

No, the real surprise was getting ready to pitch a flat of presumably dead seeds and seeing a flash of green. Last spring, I purchased a set of seeds for Roridula gorgonias, a singular carnivorous plant from South Africa. Both species of Roridula look like gigantic sundews, but they can’t absorb nutrients directly from the insects and other animals they capture. Instead, in their native biomes, they depend upon a symbiotic relationship with an indigenous ambush bug, where the bug feeds on the prey, it defecates on the leaves, and the plant absorbs nitrogen and phosphorus from the feces via special channels in its leaves. I’d had suspicions that established plants would do very well in the Dallas area, but the problem was getting established plants. Repeated attempts with seeds, both in standard peat mixes for carnivores and in peat mixes exposed to smoke, did no good, and I was about ready to give up.

It turns out that I was just a bit premature. This latest batch hadn’t sprouted at all over the spring or summer, but it finally started germinating in November. The trick, apparently, is both to expose the seeds to high heat (daytime highs above 40 degrees C) and to let the soil mix dry out for a week. The seedlings, obviously, can’t handle complete dryness, but they apparently need much drier conditions than in a standard germination flat to get established. I’ll try some experiments this winter, but between this and the sudden cold front we had two weeks ago, something set off the little monsters.

In the meantime, I understand all too well why Chinese panda breeders refuse to name a baby panda until its eyes open, because the mortality rate among infant giant pandas is so high. Hence, no pictures until we get the first full set of true leaves. That may happen before we know it, but you won’t know if the seedlings suddenly succumb to fungus. If they take off, though…

More fun with Cthulhufruit

In other developments, I’ve discovered some very interesting things about the Buddha’s Hand citron, Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, and its proper propagation in Texas. I already knew that to encourage blooming in spring, it had to be protected from excessive light at night, such as from streetlights and back porch lights. A bit of nighttime shade from a new fence, and it promptly started blooming. What I didn’t know was that Dallas isn’t known for its lack of citrus trees just because of our occasional cold winters. While this doesn’t stop kumquats, grapefruit, or lemons, our poor Cthulhufruit needs much higher humidity, and more stable high humidity, in order to keep it from dropping immature fruit.

Yeah, this was all learned by accident, when I came across a brand new fruit, about the size of my thumb, on the poor little recovering tree. A quick search revealed four fruits at varying stages of growth. That’s when I made my other big discovery. Most books and references on citrus treat Buddha’s Hand trees spend maybe a paragraph or two on Cthulhufruit before moving on to more respectable trees, usually with a snippy aside of “Only grown as a novelty” or something similar. A few might mention that the fruit comes in two forms, the “closed hand” and the “open hand”, with the latter generally commercially known as “goblin fingers”. NOWHERE does anybody say ANYTHING about how this isn’t a difference between different cultivars of C. medica var. sarcodactylis, but instead a difference in relative humidity during the early development of the fruit.

Naturally, I was thrilled with the developments, and made tentative plans for the ripened fruits come winter. That’s when the tree said “Oh, HELL no,” and dropped one of the goblin finger fruits.

Immature Cthulhufruit

Was this disappointing? Yes. Was this aggravating? Definitely. It didn’t stop me. A good healthy dose of fresh bat guano to feed the tree, and that dropped budlet became a perfect little LOLPlant:

Let Cthulhufruit give you the finger

Now you know why I’m so fond of Buddha’s Hands. The local gardening clubs look at me the way citrus writers look at them.