Dead Manís Fingers
(Decaisnea fargesii). Flower and fruit.
Dead Manís Fingers
- Decaisnea spp.
Decaisnea also known as dead man's fingers is a genus of flowering plant in the chocolate vine
family, Lardizabalaceae, native to eastern Asia, from China west to Nepal and south to
The genus comprises one or two species, depending on taxonomic
opinion. Decaisnea insignis (Griffith) Hook.f. & Thomson was described from
Nepal, and is sometimes restricted to the plants occurring in the Himalaya, with Chinese plants distinguished as Decaisnea fargesii
Franchet. The only cited distinction (e.g. Bean 1973, Rushforth 1999) between the plants from the two regions is the fruit
colour, yellow-green in D. insignis and bluish in D. fargesii. This is of little significance and the two are now combined under the older name D. insignis by some authors
(e.g. Flora of China).
The genus name is no help at all in
identification. Decaisnea is named for Joseph Decaisne, a 19th century Belgian-born French
botanist, horticulturist, and director of the Jardin des Plantes Paris. The species fargesii
was ďdiscoveredĒ and named for Pere Paul Guillaume Farges (1844-1912) a French missionary and plant collector who lived in
Insignis is often translated to mean remarkable or outstanding but the more accurate Latin use would be
"uncommon." Insignis virtus was a common phrase meaning uncommon valor.
The D. fargesii called Dead Manís Fingers. It is also called Blue Sausage
Fruit, Blue Cucumber Shrub and Blue Bean Tree.
Decaisnea fargesi is a deciduous shrub to small
tree, growing to 25 feet tall.It is hardy to zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 10-Apr. It is in flower in
June, and the seeds ripen from Sep to October. Leaves are pinnate to three feet
long, with 13-25 leaflets, each leaflet up to six inches long and four inches
wide. Blossoms are produced in drooping panicles to 18 inches long, each flower
greenish-yellow, to an inch in diameter, with six sepals and no petals. The flowers are hermaphrodite
(have both male and female organs). The plant is self-fertile. The fruit is a soft
greenish-yellow to bluish pod-like follicle to four inches long and and inch in
diameter, filled with an edible transparent glutinous jelly-like pulp with numerous flat black
watermelon-like seeds, up to a half inch in diameter. The fruitís white, juicy
phlegm-like pulp, ranges from bland to very sweet. The watermelon-like seeds are not
Decaisnea fargesi is grown as an ornamental plant for its bold foliage and decorative
fruit, bright blue in many cultivated plants, hence the common name dead man's
There are three Dead Manís Fingers: A seaweed, a mushroom, and a shrub, all so-called because of the way they
look. The seaweed called Codium fragile. Soft and velvety, it floats eerily like a
hand, and is edible, as are most seaweed. The mushroom, Xylaria polymorpha, like most
mushrooms, is not edible. When young it not only looks like fingers reaching out of the ground but it even has
fingernail-like tips. The third Dead Manís Fingers is Decaisnea fargesii, this
up and coming and escaping ornamental shrub with the bizarre fruits.