Cucurbit Genetics Cooperative Report 18:64-65 (article 30) 1995
The Production of Buddha's Hand in China
Zhihui Cheng, Huanwen Meng, and Hongwen Cui
Dept. of Hort., Northwestern Agricultural University, Yangling, Shaanxi 712100, P.R. China
The Buddha's hand (Sechium edule swart.) is a perennial root vegetable of Mexican origin. It is suitable for production in the tropic and subtropic regions. Its name comes from its fruit shape which looks like a closed pair of bent palms. It likes the warm weather but can not stand scorching heat or severe cold. When the frost comes, it shoots wither. However, its roots can endure cold and overwinter to sprout in the spring provided the soil does not freeze. The favorite growth temperature is 18-25
˚ C. There is only one flat big seed in a fruit. Because of the close contact between the seed and the fruit flesh, the separated seed will easily loose its moisture and viability. Therefore, the whole fruit with seed is usually planted in production. When the main vine grows longer, the lateral buds sprout from each node and become side vines. The lateral buds on the side vines can also grow to shoots. A two or three year old buddha's hand plant may grow 40-60 side vines each of which can stretch to 10 m long. A fully grown plant may cover 50-80 m2 of ground with its shoots which have the ability to climb because of their tendrils. The fruit is pear or circular cone shaped and green or yellowish green in color. Each fruit weighs about 300-600 g. A single plant can produce more than 500 fruits which weigh about 200-400 kg.
The Buddha's hand was brought to China by the overseas Chinese at the end of the 19th century, and was only grown in temple yards on a small scale. Until the 1960's, its good horticultural characteristics were overlooked. Since then, its cultivation has gradually spread such that it has become an important autumn fruit/vegetable in southern China. In this region it grows year round producing fruits not only in autumn but also in spring. In recent years, the Buddha's hand has been introduced into northern China and cultivated on a larger scale. According to a rough estimate, the land devoted to production of Buddha's hand reached 453 ha in 1986-87 in 17 counties of Yantai and Weihai., Shandong province. Between 1986-1988, the planting area of this crop increased to 1360 ha in Shandong province. In addition to Shandong, other provinces in northern China are also being encouraged to produce the crop.
In the past, the Buddha's hand was mainly grown in the front and back of houses and in small pieces of land, but now large scale growing is increasing. In north4rn China, the popularized large plastic film tents which are mainly used to grow spring-summer fruit and vegetables provide a convenient structure for field production of Buddha's hand. Farmers usually transplant their Buddha's hand seedlings along each side of the tent for the spring-summer vegetable is about to mature and the plastic film has been removed. In this way, the vines of the Buddha's hand climb up the tent frame and cover the whole structure. Some farmers plant certain shade tolerant vegetables under the shade in the tent during the hot season.
In northern China, the Buddha's hand is planted each year. The seedlings are raised in protected seedling beds and transplanted to fields when after the last frost. The traditional seedling raising method in which the whole fruit is planted results in a low sprouting percentage (40-82%) and low commercial seedling percentage (30-60%). In recent years, researchers have developed a new seedling raising technique by using the bare embryo instead of using the whole fruit. This new technique produces not only high sprouting percentage (~100%) and high commercial seedling percentage (~100%), but also uses the seed removed fruit as commercial vegetable.
There are many edible portions of the Buddha's hand of which the most important are the nutrient rich fruits. The perennial Buddha's hand can also produce tubers (enlarged roots which look like the potato tuber). The tuber's white flesh is tender and juicy and can also be eaten. The tender shoot of the Buddha's hand called "Dragon's Beard" is a newly developed vegetable in Taiwan. The shoots are harvested 15-20 cm long and appear in markets in bundles. Because it is nutritious, free from chemicals and appears in the market during the short summer, it is widely welcomed as a healthy vegetable.
- Cai, Kehua. 1992. Propagation by bare embryo in Buddha's hand. Chinese Vegetables (4):42.
- Hu, Jin and Xuyan Zhu. 1991. The growing experience of Buddha's hand in Linyi, Shandong. Chinese Vegetables (4):37-38.
- Lin, Gengsheng Lin. 1991. "Dragon's beard" - the tender shoots of Buddha's hand developed in Taiwan. Chinese Vegetables (1):39.
- Ruwen. 1994. Management of Buddha's hand during the growth stage. Farmer's Practical Technique (5):10.
- Tian, Suqin. 1993. Raising seedling technique by the bare embryo of Buddha's hand. Chinese Vegetables (3):40-41.
- Xenghue. 1944. Seedling raising of Buddha's hand. Farmer's Practical Technique (5):10.