By Trey Wyatt
The Fig is an amazing plant with a deep history. The fig is probably the first agricultural product that was grown. It preceded both Wheat and Barley. It has been in cultivation for more than 9000 years. It’s revered by many religions. Christianity and Judaism recognize it has what Adam and Eve covered themselves with after eating forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Buddha attained enlightenment (bodhi) after meditating underneath a fig tree. In Babylonian mythology Ishtar took the form of a fig tree to represent “primeval mother at the central place of earth“. In Islam Muhammad called it a fruit that descended from paradise.
There are more than 800 types of figs. The figs we eat are all Ficus carica. The fig has 2 fruiting cycles. The breba or first crop develops in the spring on last year’s shoot growth. The main crop develops on the current year’s shoot growth and ripens in the late summer or fall. The main crop is generally superior in quantity and quality. The fig fruit is a fleshy structure that is lined internally with numerous unisexual flowers. The tiny flowers bloom inside this structure. There’s a small opening or ostiole that allows a small specialized fig wasp to enter and pollinate the flowers. The fig wasp dies and an enzyme in the fig dissolves it inside the fruit. The fig wasp is not present in colder climates. Unlike other fig species Ficus carica does always require a pollinator.
There are three types of edible figs. Caducous figs require cross pollination by the fig wasp with pollen from caprifigs for the fruit to mature. The fig you would normally buy at the store would be this type as they produce the highest quantity of fruit. They only are grown in tropical or subtropical climates because of the needed fig wasp. Originally when they tried to grow these figs in California the trees would drop the fruit because of the lack of the wasps. The fig wasp was imported in 1877 and that solved the problem. The second type is the Intermediate which will set a first or breba crop but need a pollinator for main crop. The last type
is the Persistent or common fig which has all female flowers and doesn’t need a pollinator. This is the type we grow in Texas since it’s too cold for the fig wasp.
I got interested in figs because my buddy Hal Berdoll of Berdoll’s Pecans has been trialing many varieties for the last several years. He is looking for varieties that fruit the same year after freezing to the ground. Also looking for long production season with high quality fruit. He has some outstanding varieties. I will give you information about varieties in the future. Also about the fig hunters who search for new cultivars in the wild. Fig your it out.