The term fig has its origins from the Latin word, ficus, as well as the older Hebrew name, feg. The name of the caprifig (Ficus caprificus Risso) is derived from Latin, with capro referring to goat and ficus referring to fig.
Ficus carica is a gynodioecious (functionally dioecious), deciduous tree or large shrub, growing to a height of 7–10 metres (23–33 ft), with smooth white bark. Its fragrant leaves are 12–25 centimetres (4.7–9.8 in) long and 10–18 centimetres (3.9–7.1 in) across, and deeply lobed with three or five lobes. The complex inflorescence consists of a hollow fleshy structure called the syconium, which is lined with numerous unisexual flowers. The flowers themselves are not visible from outside the syconium, as they bloom inside the infructescence. Although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig is actually the infructescence or scion of the tree, known as a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds are borne. It is a hollow-ended stem containing many flowers. The small orifice (ostiole) visible on the middle of the fruit is a narrow passage, which allows the specialized fig wasp Blastophaga psenes to enter the fruit and pollinate the flower, whereafter the fruit grows seeds. See Ficus: Fig fruit and reproduction system.
The edible fruit consists of the mature syconium containing numerous one-seeded fruits (druplets). The fruit is 3–5 centimetres (1.2–2.0 in) long, with a green skin, sometimes ripening towards purple or brown. Ficus carica has milky sap (laticifer). The sap of the fig's green parts is an irritant to human skin.
The common fig tree has been cultivated since ancient times and grows wild in dry and sunny areas, with deep and fresh soil; also in rocky areas, from sea level to 1,700 meters. It prefers relatively light free-draining soils, and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Unlike other fig species, Ficus carica does not always require pollination by a wasp or from another tree, but can be pollinated by the fig wasp, Blastophaga psenes to produce seeds.
The plant can tolerate seasonal drought, and the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean climate is especially suitable for the plant. Situated in a favorable habitat, old specimens when mature can reach a considerable size and form a large dense shade tree. Its aggressive root system precludes its use in many urban areas of cities, but in nature helps the plant to take root in the most inhospitable areas. The common fig tree is mostly a phreatophyte that lives in areas with standing or running water. It grows well in the valleys of the rivers and ravines saving no water, having strong need of water that is extracted from the ground. The deep-rooted plant searches groundwater, in aquifers, ravines, or cracks in the rocks. The fig tree, with the water, cools the environment in hot places, creating a fresh and pleasant habitat for many animals that take shelter in its shade in the times of intense heat.
The mountain or rock fig ("Anjeer Kohi", انجیر کوهی, in Persian) is a wild variety, tolerant of cold dry climates, of the semi-arid rocky mountainous regions of Iran, especially in the Kohestan Mountains of Khorasan.
Ficus carica is dispersed by birds and mammals that scatter their seeds in droppings. Fig fruit is an important food source for much of the fauna in some areas, and the tree owes its expansion to those that feed on its fruit. The common fig tree also sprouts from the root and stolon issues.
The infructescence is pollinated by a symbiosis with a kind of fig wasp (Blastophaga psenes). The fertilized female wasp enters the fig through the scion, which is a tiny hole in the crown (the ostiole). She crawls on the inflorescence inside the fig and pollinates some of the female flowers. She lays her eggs inside some of the flowers and dies. After weeks of development in their galls, the male wasps emerge before females through holes they produce by chewing the galls. The male wasps then fertilize the females by depositing semen in the hole in the gall. The males later return to the females and enlarge the holes to enable the females to emerge. Then some males enlarge holes in the scion, which enables females to disperse after collecting pollen from the developed male flowers. Females have a short time (<48 hours) to find another fig tree with receptive scions to spread the pollen, assist the tree in reproduction, and lay their own eggs to start a new cycle.
The edible fig is one of the first plants that was cultivated by humans. Nine subfossil figs of a parthenocarpic (and therefore sterile) type dating to about 9400–9200 BC were found in the early Neolithic village Gilgal I (in the Jordan Valley, 13 km north of Jericho). The find predates the domestication of wheat, barley, and legumes, and may thus be the first known instance of agriculture. It is proposed that this sterile but desirable type was planted and cultivated intentionally, one thousand years before the next crops were domesticated (wheat and rye).
Figs were widespread in ancient Greece, and their cultivation was described by both Aristotle and Theophrastus. Aristotle noted that as in animal sexes, figs have individuals of two kinds, one (the cultivated fig) that bears fruit, and one (the wild caprifig) that assists the other to bear fruit. Further, Aristotle recorded that the fruits of the wild fig contain psenes (fig wasps); these begin life as larvae, and the adult psen splits its "skin" (pupa) and flies out of the fig to find and enter a cultivated fig, saving it from dropping. Theophrastus observed that just as date palms have male and female flowers, and that farmers (from the East) help by scattering "dust" from the male on to the female, and as a male fish releases his milt over the female's eggs, so Greek farmers tie wild figs to cultivated trees. They do not say directly that figs reproduce sexually, however.
Figs were also a common food source for the Romans. Cato the Elder, in his c. 160 BC De Agri Cultura, lists several strains of figs grown at the time he wrote his handbook: the Mariscan, African, Herculanean, Saguntine, and the black Tellanian (De agri cultura, ch. 8). The fruits were used, among other things, to fatten geese for the production of a precursor of foie gras.
It was cultivated from Afghanistan to Portugal, also grown in Pithoragarh in the Kumaon hills of India. From the 15th century onwards, it was grown in areas including Northern Europe and the New World. In the 16th century, Cardinal Reginald Pole introduced fig trees to Lambeth Palace in London.
In 1769, Spanish missionaries led by Junipero Serra brought the first figs to California. The Mission variety, which they cultivated, is still popular. The fact that it is parthenocarpic (self-pollinating) made it an ideal cultivar for introduction.
The Kadota cultivar is even older, being mentioned by the Roman naturalist Pliny in the 1st century A.D.
As California’s population grew, especially after the goldrush, a number of other varieties were brought to California by individuals and nurserymen from the East Coast of the United States and from France and England, and by the end of the 19th century, it became apparent that California had potential for being a great fig-producing state with its Mediterranean climate and a latitude of 38 degrees, lining San Francisco up with Smyrna, Turkey. G. P. Rixford first brought true Smyrna figs to California in 1880. The effort was amplified by the San Francisco Bulletin Company, which sought to bring new varieties from Smyrna to California and distribute the cuttings to the Bulletin’s subscribers, with the expectation that the subscribers would report back which varieties were most fit for California or regions of California. In 1881, some 14,000 cuttings were shipped in good condition to California and distributed to Bulletin Company subscribers as promised. However, not one of the trees planted produced a single mature fruit. George Roeding concluded this was due to the lack of pollination since the insect pollinator was not present in California. After a couple of failed attempts, wild fig trees carrying fig wasps were successfully introduced to California on April 6, 1899 to allow for fruit production of Smyrna-type figs.
The most popular variety of Smyrna-type fig is Calimyrna, a name combining “California” and “Smyrna.” The variety itself, however, is not one produced through a breeding program, but it is from one of the cuttings brought to California in the latter part of the 19th century. It is identical to the Lob Injir variety that has been grown in Turkey for many centuries.
The common fig is grown for its edible fruit throughout the temperate world. It is also grown as an ornamental tree, and the cultivar 'Brown Turkey' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
Figs can be found in continental climates with hot summers as far north as Hungary and Moravia, and can be harvested up to four times per year. Thousands of cultivars, most named, have been developed as human migration brought the fig to many places outside its natural range. Figs plants can be propagated by seed or by vegetative methods. Vegetative propagation is quicker and more reliable, as it does not yield the inedible caprifigs. Seeds germinate readily in moist conditions and grow rapidly once established. For vegetative propagation, shoots with buds can be planted in well-watered soil in the spring or summer, or a branch can be scratched to expose the bast (inner bark) and pinned to the ground to allow roots to develop.
Two crops of figs can be produced each year. The first or breba crop develops in the spring on last year's shoot growth. The main fig 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, but some cultivars such as 'Black Mission', 'Croisic', and 'Ventura' produce good breba crops.
There are three types of edible figs:Persistent (or common) figs have all female flowers that do not need pollination for fruiting; the fruit can develop through parthenocarpic means. This is a popular horticulture fig for home gardeners. Dottato (Kadota), Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Brunswick, and Celeste are some representative cultivars.
Caducous (or Smyrna) figs require cross pollination by the fig wasp with pollen from caprifigs for the fruit to mature. If not pollinated the immature fruits drop. Some cultivars are Marabout, Inchàrio, and Zidi.
Intermediate (or San Pedro) figs set an unpollinated breba crop, but need pollination for the later main crop. Examples are Lampeira, King, and San Pedro.
There are dozens of fig cultivars, including main and Breba cropping varieties, and an edible caprifig (the Croisic). Varieties are often local, found in a single region of one country.
While the fig contains more naturally occurring varieties than any other tree crop, a formal breeding program was not developed until the beginning of the 20th century. Ira Condit, “High Priest of the Fig,” and William Storey tested some thousands of fig seedlings in the early 20th Century based at University of California, Riverside. It was then continued at the University of California, Davis. However, the fig breeding program was ultimately closed in the 1980s.
Due to insect and fungal disease pressure in both dried and fresh figs, the breeding program was revived in 1989 by James Doyle and Louise Ferguson using the germplasm established at UC Riverside by Ira Condit and William Storey. Crosses were made and two new varieties are now in production in California: the public variety "Sierra", and the patented variety "Sequoia".
Turkey is the leading producer of figs (274.5 thousand metric tons), having 27% of the world total of over one million metric tons (table). Significant production occurs also in the North African region, particularly Egypt, Algeria and Morocco (table).
While the United States is lower on the list of fig producing countries, California produces ~ 80% of the U.S. production, some of the greatest research on fig breeding and development in the last 100 years has taken place in California under the auspices of the private growers and public employees of the University of California. As of 2012, there are about 16,000 acres of figs grown in California of about 10 varieties. Those varieties in relative order of acreage are: Calimyrna, Mission, Adriatic types (Conadria, Adriatic, Di Redo, Tena), Brown Turkey, Kadota, Sierra, and Sequoia.
Figs can be eaten fresh or dried, and used in jam-making. Most commercial production is in dried or otherwise processed forms, since the ripe fruit does not transport well, and once picked does not keep well. The widely produced fig newton or fig roll is a biscuit (cookie) with a filling made from figs.
Fresh figs are in season from August through to early October. Fresh figs used in cooking should be plump and soft, and without bruising or splits. If they smell sour, the figs have become over-ripe. Slightly under-ripe figs can be kept at room temperature for 1–2 days to ripen before serving. Figs are most flavorful at room temperature.
Raw figs are a good source (14% of the Daily Value, DV) of dietary fiber per 100 gram serving (74 calories), but otherwise do not supply essential nutrients in significant content (table).
In a 100 gram serving providing 229 calories, dried figs are a rich source (> 20% DV) of dietary fiber and the essential mineral, manganese (26% DV), while several other dietary minerals are in moderate-to-low content.
Figs contain diverse phytochemicals, including polyphenols such as gallic acid, chlorogenic acid, syringic acid, (+)-catechin, (−)-epicatechin and rutin. Fig color may vary between cultivars due to various concentrations of anthocyanins, with cyanidin-3-O-rutinoside having particularly high content.
In the Biblical Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve clad themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7) after eating the "forbidden fruit" from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Likewise, fig leaves, or depictions of fig leaves, have long been used to cover the genitals of nude figures in painting and sculpture. Art collectors and exhibitors often added these depictions long after the original work was completed.
The use of the fig leaf as a protector of modesty or shield of some kind has entered the language.
The Book of Deuteronomy specifies the fig as one of the Seven Species (Deuteronomy 8:7-8), describing the fertility of the land of Canaan. This is a set of seven plants indigenous to the Middle East that together can provide food all year round. The list is organized by date of harvest, with the fig being fourth due to its main crop ripening during summer.
Also in the Bible (Matthew 21:18–22 and Mark 11:12–14, 19–21) is a story of Jesus finding a fig tree when he was hungry; the tree had leaves on it, but no fruit. Jesus then curses the fig tree, which withers.
The biblical quote "each man under his own vine and fig tree" (1 Kings 4:25) has been used to denote peace and prosperity. It was commonly quoted to refer to the life that would be led by settlers in the American West, and was used by Theodor Herzl in his depiction of the future Jewish Homeland: "We are a commonwealth. In form it is new, but in purpose very ancient. Our aim is mentioned in the First Book of Kings: 'Judah and Israel shall dwell securely, each man under his own vine and fig tree, from Dan to Beersheba". United States President George Washington, writing in 1790 to the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, extended the metaphor to denote the equality of all Americans regardless of faith.
Buddha achieved enlightenment under the bodhi tree, a large and old sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa, or Pipal).
Sura 95 of the Qur'an is named al-Tīn (Arabic for "The Fig"), as it opens with the oath "By the fig and the olive." The fruit is also mentioned elsewhere in the Qur'an. Within the Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari records Muhammad stating: "If I had to mention a fruit that descended from paradise, I would say this is it because the paradisiacal fruits do not have pits...eat from these fruits for they prevent hemorrhoids, prevent piles and help gout."
In Greek mythology, the god Apollo sends a crow to collect water from a stream for him. The crow sees a fig tree and waits for the figs to ripen, tempted by the fruit. He knows that he is late and that his tardiness will be punished, so he gets a snake from the stream and collects the water. He presents Apollo with the water and uses the snake as an excuse. Apollo sees through the crow's lie and throws the crow, goblet, and snake into the sky where they form the constellations Hydra, Crater, and Corvus.
In Aristophanes' Lysistrata one of the women boasts about the "curriculum" of initiation rites she went through to become an adult woman (Lys. 641–7). As her final accomplishment before marriage, when she was already a fair girl, she bore the basket as a kanephoros, wearing a necklace of dried figs.
In the course of his campaign to persuade the Roman Republic to pursue a third Punic War, Cato the Elder produced before the Senate a handful of fresh figs, said to be from Carthage. This showed its proximity to Rome (and hence the threat), and also accused the Senate of weakness and effeminacy: figs were associated with femininity, owing to the appearance of the inside of the fruit.
The word "sycophant" comes from the Greek word sykophantes, meaning"one who shows the fig". "Showing the fig" was a vulgar gesture made with the hand.
Since the flower is invisible, there are various idioms related to it in languages around the world. In a Bengali idiom as used in tumi yēna ḍumurēr phul hay.ē gēlē (তুমি যেন ডুমুরের ফুল হয়ে গেলে), i.e., 'you have become (invisible like) the fig flower (doomurer phool)'. There is a Hindi idiom related to flower of fig tree, गूलर का फूल (gūlar kā phūl i.e. flower of fig) means something that just would not ever see i.e. rare of the rarest In Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh state of India apart from standard Hindi idiom a variant is also used; in the region it is assumed that if something or work or job contains (or is contaminated by) flower of fig it will not get finished e.g. this work contains fig flower i.e. it is not getting completed by any means.
Gular ka phool (flower of fig) is a collection of poetry in written in Hindi by Rajiv Kumar Trigarti.
A poem in Telugu written by Yogi Vemana, says "Medi pandu chuda melimayyi undunu, potta vippi chuda purugulundunu", "The fig fruit looks harmless but once you open you find tiny insects [refers to the fig wasp] in there". The phrase is comparable with the English phrase "Don't judge a book by its cover".