This Photo: Lovecraftian Horror or Chinese Citrus?


"Buddha Hand Citroen" by Elisa Lazo de Valdez ©Elisa Lazo de Valdez/Corbis

I sort through thousands of images while maintaining the STBYM website and this one absolutely jumped off the screen at me the other day. Like that time I ran across that goofy golden dolphin, I simply had to use it. This time, however, the image is artful and evocative.

It's the work of Portland photographer Elisa Lazo de Valdez and it instantly brings to mind the dark, cosmic obscenities of H.P. Lovecraft -- perhaps the spawned madness of hoary Cthulhu. At the very least some manner of deformation seems to be going on here. It worms into your brain.

As it turns out, however, this is just a woman holding some citrus.

Buddha's hand

The citrus fruit in question (Citrus medica) is known as Buddha's Hand in China, where farmers have grown it for ages. It gets its name because the fruit resembles a creepy cluster of lemon fingers, sometimes outstretched and sometimes closed together as if in prayer.

(mkistryn/iStock)

Interestingly enough, Buddha's Hand is essentially the genetic forefather of the modern Mexican lime. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Society of Horticultural Science, the popular margarita citrus derived from a Chinese species of Papeda and C. medica.

As Buddha's hand symbolizes happiness, wealth and longevity, the fruit has long been a staple in Eastern cuisine and Chinese traditional medicine. Plus, it's unique appearance and pleasant fragrance made it a popular ornamental tree. But it wasn't till the 1980s that commercial growers in California started cultivating the planet as well.

So yes, you can buy your own cluster of citrus fingers at the grocery store these days, but what can you do with it? Well, K. Annabelle Smith over at Smithsonian.com explores that question in her post "What the Heck Do I Do With a Buddha's Hand?" Her suggestions include using it in mixed drinks, candy, salads, waffles and your laundry.

For my part, I'm certainly interested in putting a twist of Buddha's Hand in some bourbon. Or perhaps I'll throw in a whole segment and call it... "The Shaolin Buddha Finger!"


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.