Featured Plant

How the fig tree conquered the world

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’.


Basic stats about growing fig trees – part 1

Common name
Fig, common fig, edible fig
Botanical name Ficus carica
Botanical name ot related useful species
Ficus sycomorus – sycomore fig Ficus religiosa – sacred fig,
Ficus racemose – cluster fig Ficus microcarpa – Chinese banyan Ficus elastica – Indian rubber plant Ficus benghalensis – Indian banyan Ficus benjamina – weeping fig, Benjamin’s fig Morus spp – mulberries Artocarpus altilis – breadfruit Artocarpus heterophyllus – jackfruit
Type of plant and size Deciduous or partially deciduous tree. Grows 6-1 Om tall. Has smooth grey bark. Leaves are 12-25cm long and lobed. Weeps milky latex exudate Irom cut or wounded tissues
The organ thought of as the fig ‘fruit’ is a specially adapted type of inflorescence. The urn like structure is termed a sycomum. The male and female flowers may be found inside the synconium. Various combinations of flower presence and presentation are possible
Temperature needs
Figs are adaptable, however they are well adapted to a Mediterranean type climate (wet winters, dry summers) with average monthly temperatures of approximately 20-25X between May and October (northern hemisphere)
Frost tolerance
Tolerant of freezing temperatures (upto -15″C when dormant) but susceptible to frosts once actively growing
Water needs
Will grow satisfactorily in locations with a total yearly rainfall of 500-550 mm
Water tolerance
Does not tolerate excessive rainfall. Poorly adapted to soils with poor drainage conditions
Humidity tolerance
40-45% humidity for the drying period (Northern Hemisphere -between July and September)
Wind tolerance
Not tolerant – subject to shoot and branch breakage
Edaphic features
Prefers sun exposed sites with wind shelter and low spring frost risk
Fig trees can be raised from seed Ground or air layering is possible, Figs are most commonly propagated by hardwood cuttings (mature wood 2 to 3 years of age). Micro-propagation of apical tips has been reported. Grafting over stocks of existing trees can be achieved shield and patch budding and with cleft grafts
Not normally used but may be useful when nematode and other soil problems present
5-6m between row spacing should be sufficient Densities within row depend on pruning and training regimes and can be very variable ranging from 0.5-4 metres
Training and pruning
Prune to maintain a balance between new and old wood Selectively prune to encourage strong new shoot growth and remove dead, diseased, damaged and low vigour shoots Prune to produce trees with low branch density and for good light penetration of the canopy. Cut back long branches to the desired length. Growers may follow: (i) open centre tree (vase) training systems; (ii) regrowth systems where trees are pruned to ground level and shoots regrown each growing season; or (iii) espalier training against a wall. Pruning may be practised in late summer and’or in early spring. Care should be taken to protect late summer pruned trees from winter damage. Spring pruning can encourage vigorous spring growth and larger fruit. Root pruning is practised in some situations where vegetative vigour is promoted at the expense of flowering and fruiting. Girdling has also been used to influence the balance between flowering and vegetative growth
Not normally practised


From the book “Temperate and Subtropical Fruit Production” edited by David Jackson, Norman Earl Looney, Michael Morley-Bunker