Home & Garden

Growing the etrog citron, a tree full of symbolism

The etrog citron (Citrus medica) is a fruit with thousands of years of human use, much like the related Buddha’s hand fruit.  Both are famous for their pleasing, room-filling aroma, but only the etrog is an integral ingredient in Sukkot celebrations that follow Yom Kippur. Only etrog is waved with the date palm, the myrtle and the willow during the Jewish holiday.

Some believe the Garden of Eden fruit is etrog, not an apple. Its association with eternal life may come from its own longevity: The fruit of some varieties lasts three years on the branch without dropping. Originally from India, etrog is one of the oldest cultivated citrus plants. Archaeologists have uncovered seeds in Mesopotamia dating back to 8000 BC. The ancient Egyptians used etrog in embalming mummies; the more prosaic Romans found it an effective moth repellent.

Depending on the variety, etrog can be bumpy or ridged. Some are shaped like an hourglass. The fruit should have no visible blemishes on the skin -- no black spots or scratches under a magnifying glass. If the pitam (the tip where the stamen was attached) is still intact, all the better.

To be kosher, etrog must come from a tree grown from seed, not propagated through grafting or budding. Unblemished etrog with this lineage can sell for $60 to $100, and trade is brisk as the holidays approach.

In California, finding an etrog to plant is almost impossible, though that may soon change. Unforbidden Fruits, a UC Riverside project to grow plants free of the pathogens that can taint foreign-grown crops and endanger the state’s agricultural industry, is nearing its three-year mark. Its first generation of Californian-grown seedlings will become available to nurseries.

Dr. Clive Segil, an orthopedic surgeon who lives in Encino, has a 4-year-old etrog plant, one of about 300 exotic fruit trees he has planted. He got an 18-inch seedling from a doctor in Santa Monica who had about a dozen plants in his yard. Segil hasn’t harvested anything yet, but typically the four-year mark is when grafted trees start bearing. Etrog plants started from seed can take nearly twice as long to bear fruit.

“If I could get an etrog from my tree, I would be overjoyed to use it for the ceremony,” he says. “And if I got more than one, I’ll donate them to my synagogue.”

ALSO:

Grow your own coffee

Grow rocoto chile (if you can stand the heat)

Grow Mexican gherkins, a.k.a. mouse melons

The Global Garden is our series on plants from around the world as reflections of L.A.'s cultures and communities. For an easy way to follow the L.A. scene, bookmark L.A. at Home and join us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • California Poppy House, a world of design rooted in L.A.
    California Poppy House, a world of design rooted in L.A.

    Jonathan Ward and Jin Ah Park drew inspiration from a backpacking trip around the world, but their new Venice house remains an expression of California living, starting with the state flower as a running design motif. Full article

  • SoCal Garden Clinic archive: Advice from the pros
    SoCal Garden Clinic archive: Advice from the pros

      You asked. Our experts answered. Here's our library of SoCal Garden Clinic entries. Submit your own question to home@latimes.com with "Garden Clinic" in the subject line. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we can respond only to select questions.

  • Home Inspiration: Kitchens
    Home Inspiration: Kitchens

    We've gone through hundreds of our Home of the Times profiles to present a range of kitchen designs here -- luxury and budget, modern and vintage, minimalist and rainbow-bright. When you're done browsing the kitchens, look for full tours of more than 100 California houses, condos and apartments...

  • Homes of the Times: The latest in Southern California design
    Homes of the Times: The latest in Southern California design

    Home ToursNew profiles of houses, condos and apartments each week. Your clicks count: Only the most popular galleries will maintain their spot on our list. For sales alerts, drought-tolerant gardening advice and more, click to our L.A. at Home blog.

  • Neutra restoration in Long Beach honors time and patina
    Neutra restoration in Long Beach honors time and patina

    If you drive through Park Estates, a traditional Long Beach neighborhood of broad-roofed, mainly one-story houses, you might easily pass right by a modest pitched-roof, two-story home. But the Hafley House and its companion one-story Moore House next door are significant 1953 creations of modernist...

  • Julie Newmar to give public a look at her Brentwood garden
    Julie Newmar to give public a look at her Brentwood garden

    In a career that has stretched lithely across seven decades, Julie Newmar, the early blooming classical pianist and dancer who grew up to be TV's first feloniously feline Catwoman, has earned a Tony Award for her first speaking role on Broadway and received two U.S. patents for pantyhose and brassiere...

Comments
Loading