THE CITRON - Citrus medica

Ripe citon fruits on the tree ready for picking
Citrus medica - The Citron

Widely known as the Citron, Citrus medica is one of just four original citrus species from which all other citrus types have been developed - either through natural hybridisation or selected cultivation. It has been grown since antiquity and as such its true origins are a little hazy. That being said it is generally believed to be native to Southeast Asia as uncultivated specimens can still be found here, although other wild examples have been found in India in the Western Ghats and the valleys at the foot of the Himalayas.

A species of citrus fruit (Citrus sarcodactylis Hort. Bog.): flowering and fruiting branch with separate numbered flower sections. Chromolithograph by P. De Pannemaeker, c. 1885,
The Buddha's hand of Citrus medica
The citron is a slow growing evergreen shrub or small tree, which under favourable conditions can attain a height of approximately 2 to 5 metres. It has an untidy open habit with glossy, ovate, lemon-scented leaves. However it is its large ornamental fruits which have made it a popular choice amongst gardeners. The citron's fruit shape can be highly variable due to the extreme thickness of the pith (otherwise known as albedo). Although not particularly palatable, the albedo is well established in the food industry as candied peel. The colour of the fruits ranges from green for unripe examples to a yellow-orange when overripe. You can't discuss the fruit of Citron medica without mentioning the Buddha's hand form - Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis. This is an unusually shaped variety with fruit segmented into finger-like appendages. These are said to resemble those seen on representations of Buddha. Depending upon the individual selection you can produce close hand or open hand forms. There are even half-fingered forms!

Like the majority of citrus plants, the citron is relatively easy to grow, In the United Kingdom, Citrus medica will not be hardy enough to grow outside permanently as it is easily damaged by even light frosts so it can only be grown as a pot grow conservatory specimen or in the ground as a greenhouse plant. That being said it will be fine growing outside over the summer once the threat of late frosts have passed. Plant into a good quality, soil-based, ericaceous compost, or produce you own by mixing peat-based ericaceous compost and John Innes No.3. It will require plenty of water over the growing season as well as a regular application of liquid soluble fertiliser.

Main image credit - Johann Werfring

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