The common cultivated fig originated in western Asia. It is one of the most ancient fruit crops, with evidence of cultivation and use at various Neolithic, late Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in the Mediterranean basin. Most of the world’s production still occurs in and arounfQhe Mediterranean basin, the major producers being Turkey, Egypt and Iran. Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece have historically been important European producers. Figs are also grown in an area stretching eastwards from the Balkans and Turkey into Iran and India. Figs are grown in North Africa and Middle Eastern countries, where the ability to tolerate low rainfall and drought conditions makes the tree a valuable asset. Spanish missionaries were responsible for introducing the common edible fig into California, and figs are now grown in the southern, drier areas of the USA. In the southern hemisphere, Argentina and Australia have limited production.
The fig has a history that includes religious associations. It is cited in the Bible (Genesis 3:7), when the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, cover themselves with fig leaves. The fig is one of the two sacred trees of Islam. Fig trees also have a pivotal presence in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Siddhartha Gautama, the Supreme Buddha, is traditionally held to have found bodhi (enlightenment) while meditating under a sacred fig (Ficus rcligiosa).
The number of species (about 750) and the range of plant habit in the genus Ficus is large .
Whereas the common is a deciduous temperate tree, many other species are subtropical and tropical evergreen plants, ranging in size and form from large trees, sometimes with aerial roots, to small trees, shrubs and climbers. Ficus clastica (the rubber tree) and the weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) are used as houseplants in temperate regions. The creeping fig (Ficus pumila) is a vine whose small, hard leaves form a dense carpet of foliage over rocks or garden walls. Despite the Ficus genera having a broad range of plants there are several distinguishing botanical features. In particular, Ficus species plants have a white to yellowish sap (latex). Tissue wounding normally leads to the exudation of the latex, sometimes a copious exudate.
Many Ficus genera plants are gynodioccious (have two sexual forms). The plants may have two flower-bearing structures – one is termed the capri-fig and has staminate (male) flowers and short-styled pistillate (female) flowers; the other, the fig, only bears long-styled pistillate flowers. The structure typically recognized as the fig ‘fruit’ is a specially adapted type of inflorescence (an arrangement of multiple flowers). This structure is botanically termed a syconium. On examination, the structure is found to be an involuted and nearly closed flower receptacle, with many small flowers arranged on the inner surface of the ‘fruit’.