Native Australian Finger Lime (Citrus australasica)
|Scientific name:||Citrus australasica|
|Common names:||Finger lime, Citrus caviar|
|Did you know?||The Native Australian Finger Lime Tree will reach between six or seven feet in height, making it a good choice for areas where tall trees are not wanted. Growers should keep in mind that the shrubs are rather thorny.|
What looks like pink, white or green caviar, grows on a tree and is scarcely bigger than your pinky finger? Native Australian finger limes! The tiny fruits’ rind color ranges from a sharp, yellowy green to deep red, depending on precise species and degree of ripeness. Cutting across the center reveals pearl-like buds that resemble fish roe in size and texture. They have a sharp, piquant flavor and are considered excellent when added to sushi, but can be used in other ways besides.
The plant is a thorny shrub or small understory tree that is native to the subtropical rainforest and rainforest areas in Queensland and in New South Wales. It will reach between six or seven feet in height, making it a good choice for areas where tall trees are not wanted. Growers should keep in mind that the shrubs are rather thorny. The leaves are small and round. The blooms are white, the fruits are small and cylindrical, shaped somewhat like a Boston pickling cucumber.
European settlers of Australia ate fruits from these trees and cleared around them. Recently, botanists have recommended cultivating them in Australia, and a few are being grown in California. Australians are in luck because they can eat these tasty fruits as “home-grown.” People who live elsewhere, such as in the United States, will pay at least $11 USD an ounce, plus shipping and handling. (Price is from Amazon, as of 4/8/2020). If you live in Australia, your best source is a local farmer’s market because their harvest season is short and so is their shelf life.
As you might guess, the Australian finger lime is easy to grow in the subtropical and tropical parts of Australia. This makes it an excellent, easy-care tree for both backyard gardeners and commercial growers. The attractive green tree provides fruit in the autumn months.
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Native Australian Finger Lime: Planting
Australian finger limes can be grown from seed, from cuttings, or grafted onto rootstock. They can be grown as a container plant, but not as a standard houseplant. They rarely do well in a space that is continually heated.
Avoid planting Australian finger limes where they will be crowded as they grow. Even though they are naturally an understory tree, crowding and excess shading will make them grow tall and spindly.
On the flip side of that, you don’t want your AFL tree to get too much sun, as it can get sunburned. Think a little shade, but a lot of air space.
Fortunately, Australian Finger Limes are not picky about soil pH, and can be grown in just about any garden soil or standard potting mix.
Native Australian Finger Lime Trees: Ongoing Care and maintenance
Australian finger limes require less fertilizer than big citrus trees, such as the Tahitian lime. An ideal method is to give an application in the spring, but to avoid fertilizing during fruiting and this might cause the tree to reject the fruit. For trees that are being grown out of doors, place a layer of mulch on the ground to prevent heating of soil, but it keep away from the trunk.
Pruning is not greatly required by these small shrub/trees, but it is a good idea to cut out any dead or dying branches and to thin the inner branches where they cross one another to prevent the tree from shading itself. They can also be pruned for size control.
Watering is a bit of a delicate business. Australian finger limes like a good drink, but they do not like wet feet. Excellent drainage is a must, and they can even be allowed to get a little bit dry. If placing a drainage tray under an AFL, be sure to give it a good support so that the plant does not become waterlogged.
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Native Australian Finger Lime Trees: Propagation
- From Seed: plant the seeds in a location that is warm during the summer months and that experiences some cooler weather during the autumn and winter months. “Cooler” is a relative term here. A. finger limes need a little cool weather, but are not frost tolerant. If planting in a container, a sunny patio from which the container can be moved into a protected area is ideal. The soil should be kept moist but not soggy, as with most citrus plants.
- From cuttings: Use your seasonal trimmings to create more plants. Dip the cut ends in a root-growth mix and follow the package directions for the mixture. When the roots are well established, place in a container, and continue to monitor.
- Grafting: Frequently, Australian finger limes are grafted onto citrus trifoliata rootstock.
Native Australian Finger Lime Trees: Taxonomy and Naming
Species: C. Australasica
Alternative Names: C. Australasica, var. sanguinea; microcitrus Australasaica
Related species: oranges, lemons, limes, kumquats
Common Names: finger lime, citrus caviar
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