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Dead Man Fingers

Introduction of Dead Man's Fingers

            Scientific name - Decaisnea

Scientifically known as decaisneainsignis this fruit belongs to the Lardizabalaceae family. Commonly known as Dead man's finger this fruit is a native shrub of China, Nepal, Himalayan regions and North Eastern parts of India such as Sikkim. This plant can also be found in our neighboring countries such as Bhutan and Myanmar. This unique flowering plant can be found growing 900 to 3600 meters above the sea level. In any place having the same climatic conditions as that of the places it is usually found in, it will grow as an ornamental plant.

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What's in the name?

The name Dead man's finger does sound creepy and strange, but the name of the fruit befits its appearance. The fruit appears to look like long cold fingers resembling that of a dead man. To add on to that the skin of the fruit is textured similar to that of a wrinkled skin of a person. That's how it appears on the outside, whereas on the inside that one can see only after peeling the outer covering is translucent jelly like substance that has many flat seeds arranged in two rows closely packed next to each other. To consume the fruit one must enjoy just the pulp and discard the hard seeds.
The taste of dead man's finger is surprisingly different from its appearance, while the onlooker might expect something acidic and citrus like dead man's finger taste nothing like it. Curiosity and excitement is put to rest by rather calming and pleasant flavor of this subtle fruit, dominated by a sweet tinge. If one had to recall and match the flavor of to something more commonly eaten then melon and cucumber are the ones that it closely resembles.

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You ought to know !

Apart from its eye catching appearance one must also brace oneself for something more surprising. The flowers of decaisnea are attractive and are 3-6cm big in diameter usually borne by drooping racemes. One striking feature about this plant is it bears both male and female flowers on the same plant. These flowers once pollinated begin to transform into the best part of the tree, the fruit itself. These fruits commonly known as dead man's finger grow about 7-12 cm long on an average. One flower bears three fruits each. The normal practice of one flower bearing one fruit is replaced by this plant where it actually bears 3 fruits each flower. This can be further explained by understanding the anatomy of a female flower. An individual female flower consist of 3 carpels, each carpel is an individual standing cylinder that after a successful act of pollination turns to become a fruit of its own rather than combining with other carpels to form one. Combined together they are botanically called as fruitlet.

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Cultivating Deadman's Fingers

As discussed earlier these plants are native mostly to the hilly terrains where they find the weather and soil conditions more suitable to prosper. The bloom the best in loamy soil that is rich in minerals and is moist for the growth of its roots. It prefers to stay sunny side up and protect itself from cold harsh winds. Partial shades and moist soil are the key factors that helps its cultivation. it is not drought friendly and cannot thrive in frosty cold places.
These plants are a delight for a botanical enthusiast as it beings sheer joy to see soul pleasing flowers swaying in the winds of spring. Having said that fruiting does take a few years. The process of the plant turning the seed into a flower and then a fruit can be a daunting task but patience in this case does turn out to be fruitful.

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Methods of propagating Dead man's finger

The ideal time to sow seeds of this plant is during the colder season so that it starts its germination process during the spring season. Seeds that are planted in green house to keep them warm usually germinate within first three months when kept at the temperature of 18 degrees. Once the begin to germinate, they should be kept in separate pots so that they become strong enough to handle their own fruits.

Word of caution

The above stated information is about the fruit Dead man's finger also known as decaisneainsignis and this should not be confused with the following :-

A. Xylariapolymorpha (a fungus)
B. Alcyoniumdigitatum (a species of soft coral)
C. Codium fragile (a seaweed).
One must use their discretion while consuming the dead man's finger fruit and not confusing them with the above mentioned.

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