The pet shop, normally rather dreary but for brightly coloured fishes and plastic reefs, had bedecked itself with row upon row of citrus plants for the upcoming Chinese New Year. Besides the usual huge shapely ones, corseted with branches sticking out the top, they’d also brought in some little ones in jade green porcelain pots, small and endearing and just the right size to carry home. The shop’s selection ran the gamut really, from brightly coloured red, orange and yellow kalanchoes clustered daintily atop their dark green foliage to large balls of delicate blue, purple and pink hydrangeas. But it was the citruses that attracted me with their dark green leaves framing round, bright orange fruits, and their lovely fragrance- not too strong, but just enough to make its presence known. I have to confess though, that my fascination with them was partly because I’d just come back from a butterfly photography run in the park nearby, and was enthralled with the possibility of watching the lime butterfly eclose. Come back a little later for caterpillars, said the shopkeeper, whilst giving me what I can only assume was a Very Strange Look.
I gave in to reason a little less than two weeks to the New Year. Firmly deciding that Chinese New Year plants wouldn’t look as good or auspicious with half their leaves succumbing to caterpillar nibbles, I got two little four seasons limes (四季桔) without enthusiastically querying the shopkeeper of the presence of the things that eat up the things he’s trying to sell. ‘桔’ in Chinese and Cantonese sounds similar to ‘吉’ or ‘good luck’, so ‘四季桔’ symbolises good luck throughout all four seasons, which in tropical Singapore, of course, simply symbolises good luck throughout the entire year.
Four seasons limes are also known as calamondin or calamansi. It’s an intergenetic hybrid between the kumquat (Citrus japonica), also a common and popular Chinese New Year plant, and another member of the Citrus genus, possibly the mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata). Like its parents, the calamondin fruit is sour, and is often used in Southeast Asian cooking. The drink, which has a very pleasing taste, is also thought to help treat constipation. Like kumquats, it’s believed to be a good cure for sore throats, and is thought to be anti-inflammatory, thus useful in multiple applications including insect bites, acne, and abcesses.
Calamondin trees like warmth and the sun, making Singapore a good place for these trees to grow. They are rather susceptible to pests, which can be blasted away with water if pesticides don’t quite pique your fancy. The trees thirst, and can be watered daily, although of course in wetter, more humid weather, they can be watered less as deemed necessary.
I’d gone to another florist before going back to the pet shop, finding that the perfect foliage on the trees in that nursery were very much a result of pesticides and insecticides, which left a white chemical residue all over the plant. Sure, the plants I’d gotten have evidence of a few bites, but at least they look more natural, and I’m waiting for their green blush to ripen into a golden orange.