Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fig Tree Facts

Fig trees produce two large crops each year and grow wider than they are tall. Potted in a tub, they can be kept as house plants. Grown for thousands of years, these attractive trees thrive in Mediterranean climates, but with care can be cultivated in any temperate or borderline cold region.


Edible figs (Ficus carica) have been around for millenia. According to Science Magazine, nine partially fossilized figs dated between 9400 B.C. and 9200 B.C. were found in the Jordan Valley. The Bible mentions figs, and the Romans and Ancient Greeks ate them.

Potted fig trees make good house plants and their fruit is used in cookies such as Fig Newtons. The fig prefers dryer, warm climates such as the Mediterranean. It can be grown in wet and cool areas, but dislikes moist, tropical climates.


The fig is often potted as a house tree, but left alone can grow to 50 feet (10 to 30 feet is average). Figs grow wider than they are tall with beefy, succulent branches and gray bark. This bark is sensitive to excess sunlight and can get sunburn if not protected with whitewash.

Leaves are dark green, usually growing 5 to 10 inches long with up to five fingers. They are hairy, with the upper leaf being rougher than the base. The fruit, which is actually the flower, grows up to 2 inches long with skin in various combinations of green, brown or purple.

Fig sap is an irritant to human skin, containing a natural latex.


Fruit-bearing figs require all-day sun. The trees can become overwhelmingly large, but excess pruning can kill the crop and is only needed in the tree's early years. Ground-planted trees need a large garden.

To grow figs in a pot, keep the pot shaded when the tree is young and replace soil every few years. Trees that don't get enough water will have yellowing leaves and failed crops. If protected from frost, figs can be grown in cooler climates; in truly cold regions, it is best to bring the tree inside for winter.


Fig fruits are called synconiums; minuscule flowers hide inside this fruit. The common fig has two crops. The breba crop is first, and often falls victim to frost in colder climates. The second, main crop comes in the fall. Inside is a white rind, jelly-like flesh and edible seeds. When the fruit starts to fall, it rots on the ground and can attract wasps and other undesirable visitors.

Figs are delicate--harvest gently to protect from bruising. They last no more than three days in a refrigerator. The best method of storage is drying. Dried fruit can be eaten as such, or used in cookies, jams and other recipes. A ripe fig is slightly soft and droops a little; fruit picked too early will not ripen off the tree.


Gophers eat fig tree roots and can kill them. Enclosed gopher baskets can protect young trees; they break down once the root is large enough to survive chewing. Birds, too, can damage a fruit crop.

Figs can suffer from nematodes and certain dried fruit beetles (Mitadulid and Carpophilus). Mosaic virus, which disfigures the leaves, is carried by Euryphid mites. Other diseases which afflict the fig include fig canker, Fusarium rot and botrytis.

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