Aug 012015

Finger lime anbg
The fruit of the Australian finger lime Citrus australasica is sought after by top restaurants around the world. Often described as ‘lime caviar’ for its small bead-like crystals of tangy juice, it’s used to pep up drinks, in desserts, as a garnish and even to make marmalade. For the home gardener, it is also an attractive tree, growing to six metres, and its thorns provide a perfect habitat for small birds. It is native to the rainforests of south-east Queensland and north-east New South Wales, but will grow elsewhere.

Planting schedule for warm, temperate and cool areas of Australia

Anytime except the height of summer when it can be too hard to make sure they get enough water.


20150720_143642 (361x640)It is a good idea to protect trees from prevailing winds as the fruit can be damaged by the plant’s thorns. Finger limes thrive in dappled light as well as full sun. In cooler climates, a partly shaded north-facing site is preferred. They are able to withstand light frost.

Finger limes, along with other citrus, make good hedges and espalier well against fences and walls.

Soil and fertiliser

They grow in a wide range of soils in tropical and subtropical rainforest.  They are most commonly grafted onto exotic citrus with Citrus trifoliata being the most common and they are then particularly suitable for heavier soils.  Grafted finger limes  grow faster and withstand other climatic conditions because the grafted wood is usually taken from a mature tree.   Like all citrus, finger limes prefer well-drained soil with a pH of between 6 and 7.

Mulch in spring and make sure the soil is kept moist in summer.

They require small amounts of fertiliser every 2 – 3 months.  It is best to also give small quantities of soil conditioners like seaweed emulsion or worm castings regularly e.g. every 2 weeks.

Flowers and fruiting

The flowers are 10 to 14mm in diameter, white or pale pink and appear in late summer and autumn. They are followed by elongated fruits about 30-120mm long. The fruits ripen in winter through to spring and may be green, yellow, black, purple or red. The pulp is green, yellow or pink.


Finger limes can be grown from seed, cuttings or grafting. They are slow growing and if grown from seed may take up to 15 years to mature. It is important to use fresh seeds. Semi-hardwood cuttings, like seedlings, are slow to grow and have a low success rate.  Therefore, grafting on to Citrus trifoliata or a range of other citrus rootstock is preferable.

Pests and diseases

Citrus gall wasp Bruchophagus fellis is an Australian native insect pest. Citrus australasica is its natural host. The wasp has spread across the country in recent decades to areas of citrus production and to backyards. The wasp can reduce fruit size, tree vigour and yield.

The following practices can help limit the damage caused by citrus gall wasp: check your citrus trees between June and September when galls are at their most visible; prune off the infected branches by late August (before the adult wasps emerge); burn the infected branches. Do not put in the compost or green waste bin. Hang sticky yellow traps on the tree in mid-August as they attract and trap the emerging adults, but make sure you take the traps down by November as they also kill beneficial insects.

A biological form of control – introducing wasps that prey on citrus gall wasp – is used in orchards and home gardens. Megastigmus brevivalvus and Megastigmus trisulcus are natural enemies of citrus gall wasp. They lay their eggs inside the eggs of the citrus gall wasp and when their eggs hatch they destroy the host.

Megastigus brevivalvus is sold to home gardeners in some states, but it is only available for a two-week window around October/November. If you are able to get some of the parasitic wasps, they must be released soon after the citrus gall wasps have emerged.

Finger limes also suffer from similar pests and diseases to those of other citrus plants, such as crusader bug, spined citrus bug, bronze orange citrus bug,  caterpillars,  grasshoppers,  psyllids,  leaf miner, leaf hoppers, aphids,  scale, nematodes and mealy bug.  Sap-sucking insects can transmit both bacterial and viral diseases some of which can kill the plant.

Fungal diseases such as melanose, gummosis, phytophtera and dry fusarium rot may also be encountered.

Some ways to get rid of scale without using toxic sprays are: encourage predatory bugs into your garden (some predatory insects can be bought); rub off by hand; prune and dispose of infected branches, twigs and leaves; and apply horticultural oil (or home-made vegetable oil soap) which kills insects by smothering them.

Bronze orange bug can be removed by hand and drowned in a bucket of soapy water, but it is wise to wear gloves as they can squirt a nasty liquid. Spraying with eco-oil in winter and early spring may reduce numbers.

One of the non-chemical ways to deal with fungal disease like melanose is to prune off dead twigs and branches and remove diseased material from under the tree.


There are many cultivars of the Australian Finger Lime. They include: the ‘Rainforest Pearl’, a vigorous grower with pink fruit; and ‘Alstonville’ – a tall growing shrub producing dark green-black fruit with a pale green flesh.  The ‘Blood Lime’ is a hybrid – a cross between a mandarin and a finger lime which boasts blood red flesh – the rind and juice may also be red.

Tastes vary. Some suggest trying the fruit before buying a tree to make sure you like the flavour. It is not always easy to find the fruit as demand exceeds supply. Try fruit markets in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

The trees can be bought at most nurseries and on sites like eBay.

We acknowledge the contributions of the indigenous food business Aussiecitrus to this article.


Garlic & chilli prawns with pepperberry, saltbush & finger lime

A wonderful recipe for this unusual recipe can be found here


Department of Primary Industry. NSW.
Australian Native Plants Society
Australian National Botanic Gardens

  25 Responses to “Finger Limes”

  1. Namaste,
    Krishna from Nepal but currently studying MBA at Thailand, today I found some of my friends talking about finger limes so, I found this beautiful article and wonderful comments and answers, so can I know if I can cultivate in Kathmandu(NEPAL) and is there a better possibility of exporting it from Nepal? as I am a student of Commerce I always want to relate it to finance and business.
    I will be happy to hear your comment and advice.

    Thank you.

    • Finger limes grow naturally in the warmer parts of Australia. As your summer temperatures in Kathmandu reach 30 c and winter temperatures are around 10 c you could give it a try. You would need excellent drainage as monsoonal rains could cause root rotting. Let us know how you go.

  2. I live in coastal California. My finger line is flowering now, in January. Is that correct?

    • Finger limes flower from June to October in the Southern Hemisphere so January in the North would be right.

  3. My son is attempting to grow some finger limes from seed. Could you tell me what kind of potting mix would be best please. Not sure if to put in a citrus potting mix, a native mix or will plain all purpose mix be fine. He has some growing at the moment in all purpose but they seem to be slowly dying off. They are about 2cm high so far. Thankyou.

    • The scourge of all seedling growers is the fungal condition ‘Damping Off’ which causes seedling to rot off at the ground. Use Seed Raising Mix to germinate them as it has been sterilised. Also ensure that the surface of the mix is not left wet or with small pools of water overnight.

  4. What is the average production for a matrure plant per year and how many years does it last keeping such production? I am interested on producing in Baja, Mexico, where can a get grown plants to import? Thanks for your attention

  5. I have 6 finger limes in pots on the entrance stairs to the house and they are doing great but yesterday when I was watering I noticed a lot of medium size ants on one of the trees. Is this a sign of a problem?
    Any advise is greatly appreciated,

    • If you have ants there will be a food source for them, either scale or aphids. The ants are attracted to the secretions from these pests and the next problem to emerge will be sooty mould. Check if you can see any of those on the trees. If so, a band of petroleum jell around the trunk of each plant near ground level will put a stop the ants. If there is scale, you could control it, if needed, with a white oil spray (not in the hotter months as it will defoliate the tree). The aphids would only be temporary – see our article on aphids If there is destruction of the trees you could use a neem oil spray.

  6. Will finger lines fruit in the tropics where there is little variation in daylight hours?

    • My research has shown me that finger limes are grown successfully in tropical areas. They don’t like intense direct heat, preferring dappled shade

  7. Hi All,
    I have a finger lime, planted out it is about 4 years old, 2 metres high, healthy looking but as yet no fruit? I am in Lake Macquarie NSW. Can anyone tell me how old they are before fruiting?
    Thanks Lyn

    • Grafted finger limes will usually start to bear when they are about 3 years old with good crops after about 6 years. Seedlings can take from 5-15 years to fruit

  8. Hi. What is good and bad companion plants for the finger lime?

    • Companion plants can be used for different purposes – to enhance growth or reduce pest attack. Since Australian native plants grow best in low phosphorus soils, so it would be wise to grow plants nearby which have similar requirements. You could try Warrigal Greens which are edible and are also Australian native plants or just grow some decorative Australian native plants nearby. Plants with high nitrogen requirements would be bad companions.

      I have heard that finger limes are sometimes attacked by caterpillars (I don’t know which sort), so planting Australian native plants around it will help with that too (see

  9. Hello. I’m really excited. I have a baby red finger lime with another flower finally on my little finger lime tree. I just hope they stay on! it’s in a pot with all the ‘goodies’ in it.
    This was really good info you’ve provided and thorough. A rare thing.
    Thank you

    • Hi Nicky. I understand how excited you must be. We’ve had our finger lime for about 3 yrs, firstly in a pot and then I planted out about a year ago. It’s grown from about 30cm to over a metre high in that time but, alas, no flowers or fruit. It did have a fruit on it when we bought it, so I know it’s possible. Just wondering how old yours was when it flowered/fruited?

      • This is strange… our potted Finger lime was small and had a finger lime on it when we bought it from the nursery. Since then it’s grown somewhat, but no where near what you have described. it’s more a shrub then a tree. It’s probably been 4 years since we bought it and produces limes every year. They are very small however, but still delicious. the shrub as a whole is probably 50cm high and wide. It sometimes looks a little worse for ware with yellowing leaves which was why I was on here, I think I may water it too much and it may need a sunnier position. Just measured the ph though and it was around 5.. so might be a little low. I live in Sydney.

        • Finger limes grow naturally in semi or light shade so full sun wouldn’t be ideal. Plants grown in tubs, particularly fruiting plants need consistent moisture and soil temperature. While moisture is generally easy to manage, soil temperature is not. On a hot day the soil in a container will get very hot which won’t help developing buds, fruit or growth. Some selections of finger limes are also smaller growing than others.

        • Perhaps mine has put all it’s energy into growth and not fruiting then. It gets full sun for about 3-4hrs a day. I’ve tried epsom salts and potash but no flowers yet, let alone fruit. I’m hoping it’s just building up and has a bumper year soon.

  10. I am on here looking at finger limes we have what we were told was a finger lime it is a large yellow fruit with multiple fingers smelling like lemons ???? Do you know what this is Tastes great in tea Sandie @ Many thanks if you are able to help the tree belongs to my elderly neighbour

    • Hello Sandie. Finger limes are normally a single ‘finger that is longer rather than round. What you describe sounds very much like a ‘Buddha’s Hand’ Citron, a form of Citrus medica. It has limited culinary uses but is good for zesting or just the citrus smell it gives off.

    • The lemon tree you have is called Buddha’s hand diferent origin and diferent family of citrus citrus medica used in cooking, and preserves.

  11. Looking forward to better results after reading your commentary. Thanks.

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