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’.


All about sycophants and figs

Presumably the sycophant “showed his own figs” or manly vigor inappropriately and also denigrated other people both by pointing out facts about their lives that should have been kept out of the public eye and by shaming them too agressively. As Isocrates wrote (15.314), the sycophant “shows to all [epideik-nusthai] his rawness [omoteta], his misanthropy, and his fondness for making enemies [philapechthemosune].” In misspending in the economy of pleasures, the sycophant stood with moichos, the male prostitute, and the citizen who violated the norms of homosexual love—an exclusive club for those poneroi or base men who did not deserve to be active citizens.65 The intersection of anger and sexuality in the trope of figs does not allow us to produce an epigrammatic definition of who or what the sycophant was but it does allow us to see the web of meaning within which the sycophant’s bad reputation and dirty name were established. That web of meaning is based on an ethical system that coalesced around the problem of trying to deal with desire. The sycophant violates the economy of desire by initiating processes of anger when the time or situation is not appropriate* Thus, Demosthenes describes the statute of limitations as having been drawn up specifically so as to prevent sycophancy (36.26-27).67


The ban on the sycophant’s acts of “exposure” limited excessive aggressiveness in the judicial system. The Athenian requirement that speakers explain their personal interest ensured that prosecutors had only an “honest” interest in sating a “ripe” anger and were not acting for some more savage and unseasonable ulterior motive. The economy of anger put limits on the number of public conflicts and disputes in which any individual could be legitimately involved, just as the economy of desire put limits on the number and kind of homosexual love affairs an Athenian citizen could have and still maintain a political role in the city. The need for prosecutors to prove and justify their personal anger was guard against the much decried oligarchic activity of too frequent and too comprehensive punishment.68
The city’s drive to put constraints on desire operated in all arenas and on the basis of a consistent set of norms for “proper use” that were at the heart of Athenian culture. The slurs against sycophants contributed to the constraint of desire. The word “sycophant” was used to mark the moments when the Athenian normative structure seemed to have failed to constrain a particular individual’s will. Orators who made charges of sycophancy and defended themselves from charges of sycophancy involved themselves in a conversation about how to manage the diverse and conflicting wills of the citizenry, about how to define the Athenian system of value, and about how to regulate behavior that impacted social relationships. Lycurgus’s attempt to redefine sycophancy by validating disinterested prosecution was an attempt to effect a cultural paradigm shift and to redefine the rules for using political insititutions.

Penn Libraries call number: Inc B-720
Penn Libraries call number: Inc B-720

The word sycophant could also be used to mobilize citizens into acting more aggressively to impose their norms upon their fellows. The oligarchs began their late fifth-century attack on Athens by claiming that they would rid the city of its sycophants/* Xenophon reports:
First of all they arrested and brought to trial on capital charges all those persons who were known to have made their living by acting as sycophants [apo sukophantias] and by being offensive to the aristocrats. The Council of 500 and all other citizens were glad to vote against these men. and whoever thought he himself was not like these (sycophants], was in no way troubled. (Hell. 2.3.12-13)
The so-called sycophants were vulnerable to the attack of the Thirty because they had failed to meet the norms of the good man and good citizen. The democrats, who understood themselves as distinct from the sycophants, were willing to let the oligarchs eliminate them. The citizenry’s acceptance of the Thirty’s generalized attack on people labeled sycophants indicates the power of the word to regulate the norms of public agency and boundaries of the city’s ethical system and to legitimate moves against members of the citizenry who failed to live up to these.
The Thirty did not ultimately restrict their attacks on Athenian citizens merely to people whom the citizens already called sycophants. Xenophon writes:

Alice_par_John_Tenniel_21Then the Thirty began to take counsel as to how they might use the city as they saw fit. . . . they arrested those whom they wished—not now the base people and those of little worth [tous ponerous te kai oligou axious), but from this point on those people whom they thought were least likely to submit to being ignored, and who would gather supporters together in the greatest numbers, if they tried to fight back against the Thirty. (Xen. Hell. 2.3.13-14)
The Thirty attacked all those whose wills might disrupt the newly installed oligarchic social system. Ultimately, Xenophon says, the oligarchs’ extermination of the sycophants was not about getting rid of all the people whom the democratic masses normally identified as sycophants (tous homologoumenous sukophantas, Xen. Hell. 2.3.38). Instead, the Thirty used the label “sycophant” to expand the category of the socially unacceptable according to oligarchic terms.70
Theramenes, who was initially a member of the oligarchic faction, eventually came to the conclusion that things had gone too far and expressed his dissent by saying that the Thirty, with their extensive “punishments,” were worse than the sycophants whom they had set out to destroy in the first place (adikotera ton sukophanton, Xen. Hell. 2.3.22). The oligarchs had been able to begin their attack on Athenian democrats by deploying the word sycophant. Theramenes tried to end their attack with the same word. Both he and the other members of the Thirty recognized the power of the word sycophant, with its capacity to delineate “common knowledge” distinctions between the socially acceptable and the socially reiectable. The Athenian orator who called upon his jurors to recognize someone as a sycophant was likewise calling them to a more vigilant defense of the city’s system of value and the distinction between forms of behavior which were and were not socially desirable.
The use of a near obscenity, the term sycophant, to establish the contours of the practice of legitimate prosecution reveals the power of ideology to regulate democratic norms. On the topic of obscenity, Henderson writes:
The great majority of obscene words are those which, although they may be unmistakably direct in their reference, neither attain to the absolute and exclusive explicitness of primary obscenities nor possess their hallucinatory and repressive power, but which distance the listener in a greater or lesser degree. They are products and components of the capacity for abstract and metaphorical thinking characteristic of latency. Unlike the primary obscenity, valuable only for its directness and primitive force, the value of metaphorical obscenity lies precisely in its flexibility and nuance.’
The word sycophant functioned in the following fashion: all Athenians knew in general that a sycophant essentially misused the lust of prosecutorial anger (whether by faking it, overindulging it, or accepting money for it) and thereby violated democratic norms of public agency. No Athenian, however, would (or perhaps could) specify precisely the full set of terms that delineated the sycophant’s misuse (despite modem efforts to write up “economies” of spending desire). And, anyway, the whole matter was slightly obscene. Nonetheless, the word sycophant was widely recognized as a word that straightforwardly separated the socially respectable from the socially rejectable despite, or rather because of, its vagueness, its metaphoricity, and the tinge of obscenity. The word sycophant captured, in general, what was beyond the pale established by the norms of public agency.
General_Jackson_Slaying_the_Many_Headed_Monster_cropE. Csapo writes: “It is often said that symbols are interesting because they encompass contradictions. But symbols are also contradictory because they are interesting. . . . [they are] the loci of struggle between competing social groups, and necessarily ambivalent, because the language of the debate must be common, even if competing groups ascribe different values to the terms.  The word sycophant was vague, so the fence between the respectable and the reject-able could be moved easily with a simple shift in definition (or resignification) of the term sycophant. The word sycophant was available for those like Lycurgus who wished to attach new definitions to it and thereby change the “norms of public agency” in the process. Does this explain why the modem definition of sycophant could have strayed so far from its ancient origins? More important, the vagueness of the word sycophant reveals the degree to which the city’s norms were contestable and the system of value susceptible to being revised over time, despite its consistency across diverse social spaces. The “norms of public agency,” and the symbolic language that expressed those norms, were powerful ideological tools. In the context of democratic Athenian punishment, they primarily allowed for the controlled indulgence of anger; but they also provided orators like Lycurgus with the means with which to contest socially dominant definitions of politics, the public sphere, and the good citizen.

The orators speeches for the prosecution and defense helped to establish a consistent set of norms throughout the citizenry at a given moment in time but also made it possible for that consistent set of norms to be shifted over time. The symbolic rhetoric associated with the sycophant reveals the nature of the media in which the orator worked. Speech could be used both to refer to already existent systems of value and to make those systems malleable and fluid.
But this malleability is not the whole of the story for there was also a written law. Written law aspires not to establish norms that are malleable and fluid but rather norms that are consistent over time. There was a tension, in Athens, between the power of speech to set and revise communal norms and the power of law to fix them. That tension appears in any society that tries to use law, but the Athenians dealt with the tension differently than do modem democrats.


(From the book The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens By Danielle S. Allen)



Basic stats about growing fig trees – part 2

Wasps (in particular tig wasp Blastophaga psenes), may enter the synconium to pollinate the flowers and lay their eggs. Smryna ligs in particular require wasp vistation Not all tig flowers need pollination tor the fruit1 structure to grow. Unpollinated fruits are parthenocarpic’ fruits
Flower buds
Usually two sets of flower buds – breba flower buds overwinter and become apparent In early spring. Main crop flowers are produced in the leaf axils of current season shoot growth.
Growth ot fruit
Double sigmoid growth curve. Fruit is ethylene responsive in final maturation stage. Fruit has a respiratory climacteric as npening and fruit softening approaches.
Time of bud burst
Growth resumes in spring (northern hemisphere – February-March)
Time of flowering
Main crop May-July (northern hemisphere) Breba crop (sec text) in March-Apri (northern hemisphere)
Time ot fruit maturity
Main crop figs ripen from August to October (Northern Hemisphere). Ethephon may hasten ripening. First crop or breba figs ripening occurs earlier (see text)
Soil needs
Should be free draining Rooting can be extensive – and promotive of vegetative vigour. Plants can be grown in large containers where some root restriction will occur. Prefers soils that have a pH between 6-7. Will tolerate some alkalinity
Nutrient requirements
Trees are reputed to not need fertilization every year Fruit growth may benefit from potassium containing fertilisers. Fertilizers high in nitrogen, will promote green leafy growth which may reduce flower bud development Nitrogen dressings to maintain shoot growlh can be given in split applications • avoid fertilizing late in the growing season and delaying hardening for winter An annual total dressing ot between 25-60 units of nitrogen (N). 20-50 units of phosphate (PjOJ and 50-100 units of polash (K20) per hectare – depending on climate, soil, irrigation, plant vigour and yields – may be satisfactory
Minimal soil disturbance so as not to disturb roots and potentially stimulate suckering. Soil movement on sloping sites should be minimised. Bare soils may assist yields in and regions. Bare soil also assists mechanical sweeping of fallen fruit. Cover crops could assist in reducing vegetative vigour
Time to first harvest
Some fruit should be produced in the second growing season
Time to full production
Trees may reach full commercial yields In about 5 years
Expected yield
Yields of between 6 and 15t/ha are achievable
Normal productive life
Orchards should remain productive for 15-20 years, although Irees may be long-lived
Method ot harvest
Table fruit should be cut or twisted and snapped from the tree
Fresh fruit have a short storage life. Refrigerate between 0-4:C. Shelf life may be no greater than 8 days. Dried fruit (using solar or hot air technology) can be kept for several months, especially in dry refrigerated conditions
Main pathogens
Root diseases include Rosellinia necatrix and Armillaria mellea. Botrytis cinerea and Alternaria can affect both foliage and fruit. Fig trees pests in Portugal include two fly species – Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) and Lonchaea aristella. Scale insects can be problematic e g. fig wax scale. Ceroplastes rusci. Root-knot and plant-parasitic nematodes have been shown to affect figs. Fig leaf miner (Eutromula nemorana) is an important pest in southern Portugal


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


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

Featured Health

Fig combinations with other foods for health and healing

Figs are harvested during March and May—and arc rich in high class amino-acids like: Tyrosin, Lipase, Protease, Protose, Cravin, Lysin, and Grape-sugar. Therefore, eating figs with milk is one of the best means of proteins in vegetarians, and in the prevention of protein deficiency diseases.
Eating figs with honey is a very valuable natural medicine for the treatment of bleeding from the lungs due to pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic cough, asthma, bleeding piles, constipation, rectal fissures, cirrhosis of the liver, jaundice, portal obstruction, slow healing of the ulcers, fractured bones etc.


Figs contain a digestive enzyme in the sap, hence, semi-ripe figs can be used as a digestive tonic in all kinds of dyspepsias, heart burn, etc. There is a high concentration of potassium in the figs, hence figs can be used in the treatment of urinary diseases with scanty urination, stones in the bladder, and the kidneys, strangury, phosphaturia and metabolic disorders of carbohydrates such as ketosis and acidosis. (diabetics should use figs with caution). Figs can also be used as an energy-food in cardio-vascular disorders under the care of a physician.
In the treatment of nervous vaginismus in young girls; giving figs with butter-milk daily thrice for a month relaxes the vaginal muscles and stops the spasm. This is tested in many cases and found effective. Chewing figs regularly, not only hardens the gums but also stops bad breath and keeps the teeth healthy and strong.
An ounce decoction of ripe figs given three to four times a day during infancy and childhood, supplies ail the necessary calcium, iron, phosphorus, proteins and other minerals to effect healthy and strong growth. It prevents the convulsions by avoiding constipation in the babies. Those who eat figs regularly during pregnancy do not suffer from prolonged labour and weakness after child-birth.


For the proper treatment of gross potassium deficiency an experienced physician or a surgeon is required, however, in simple cases, drinking plenty of tender coconut water or taking Pot-citras, 20-30 grs., t.d.s., (three times daily), cures it. It is advised to take plenty of figs, apricots, prunes, almonds, tomatoes etc., during the use of oral diuretics. Potassium-rich foods should be restricted during acute renal failure, Addison’s disease etc.

(From the book “Herbal Foods and Its Medicinal Values” By H. Panda)

Featured Health

Eating figs for beauty

Recognized by the Muslims as being the most intelligent of all trees, fig trees produce one of the most nutritious fruits in the world. Some tropical primates live on a diet of more than 80% figs. In the tropics we find more than six hundred fig varieties. More than a hundred and fifty other varieties grow in Mediterranean climates the world over.
The Roman historian Aeliant tells us that in the first age of humankind the “Athenians lived on figs…” (Aeliant Hist. Var., L. 8, ch. 89).

Jesse_in_Las_Vegas_4_by_dukephotoFigs are a densely mineralized sweet fruit. They contain one of the highest concentrations of calcium of any food.
Whether they are fresh or naturally dried, figs are a great laxative. The tiny seeds in figs are not only packet! with nutrients, but they help draw out and dissolve waste, parasites, and mucus in the intestines. Figs are one of Professor Arnold Fhret’s top three mucus-dissolving foods (as referenced in The Mucusless Diet Healing System).
Dried figs are probably the healthiest choice of all dried fruits. They are the most alkaline of dried fruits and probably the most mineral-rich as well.


— How to Eat Figs —

Fresh figs should be soil and as tree-ripened as possible. If many figs are eaten unripe, they can burn the mouth and lips. Figs are a wonderful treat bv themselves and also mix well with other foods due to their high alkaline-mineral content.
Dried figs may be eaten by themselves; however, I typically liko to blend them in smoothies in order to add incredible zest and flavor. 1 also cut them up and mix them with salads.

‘…champions were in times past fed with figs.”
—Pliny, Roman naturalist


(Excerpts from the book “Eating for Beauty” by David Wolfe)


Why figs are associated with gays?

It seems to start mainly from Ancient Greece but has got as far as modern slang where it has been defined (urban dictionary) as another term for fag or faggot; used to hate on any person looking, acting, or being accused of being a homosexual. As in “Noah your such a fig.”  The same source defines it as an acronym for “Female Identified Gay” A woman who identifies as a gay man and is not trans. A woman who is a gay man on the inside.  Looking back at the history however there is even more:

“Gathering from the vine was like gathering figs, gathering testicles, gathering female fertility, gathering what is ripe and full of orge, gathering anger. The relation of fertility to both eras and anger allows for the metaphorical transfer of the rules of viticulture, fig gathering, heterosexuality, and homosexuality to processes of anger and punishment and makes punishment itself an analogue to sexual intercourse.

Gay_PhelepsThe Athenians had a number of fig-related words that could be used to insult those who misspent their erotic passions. In the Peace (1351), sukologein and sukazein are used to describe excessive homosexual intercourse. In another play Cleon is essentially accused 6f) being a homosexual rapist with a word that means “squeezing figs” (aposukazein, Kn. 259). He treats other people’s “testicles” too aggressively and too lustily. Negative forms of sexual behavior included not only “fig squeezing” (aposukazein) but also “fig gathering” (psenizein), another euphemism for homosexual contrectation.’’3 Cleon violated the norms of eras by acting too aggressively.
But how did the sycophant, who “pointed out figs,” violate the norms for standard use of the passions? According to Xenophon, the vine is supposed to point out to the farmer which fruits to pick and only those. There is therefore a right time and method for the exposure of ripe figs or of orge. There were rules against improper exposure in the sexual context. According to Henderson, the desire to “expose what should be hidden” was a fundamental part of sexual aggression. Calling attention to one’s opponent’s genitals was an act of violence, and according to Henderson, “references to testicles in Aristophanes almost always occur in threats (to rip out someone’s testicles) or in violent erotic advances (seizing the testicles in preparation for sexual contact) (e.g., Clouds 713, Birds 442).”

From the book “The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens” By Danielle S. Allen